MOULTRIE — Union Missionary Baptist Church will hold a workshop for anyone confused about the new Medicare drug plans available. The workshop will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 11.

Myron W. Griffin, a licensed insurance agent from Atlanta, will answer any questions eligible Medicare participants may have. He can help find which plan is right for each person, tell what questions to ask about the plan and show how to find one that is within one’s budget, among many other concerns.

Everyone is asked to bring a list of prescription drugs and Medicare cards to enroll for a plan while at the workshop. There is no charge to attend.

For more information, please contact Sister Marilyn Williams at 985-6847 or Shirley Davis at 921-5679. The workshop is being sponsored by the church’s Mission in Action.

In a recent story, the Associated Press reported premiums will average about $25 a month, as opposed to the $37 projected when the program was approved. Mark McClellan, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said his agency now estimates the program will cost about $678 billion over 10 years rather than about $730 billion.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, in an interview, said, “We’re seeing the cost of drugs come down in a rapid way because of an organized, competitive marketplace.”

McClellan told the Senate Special Committee on Aging that the new cost estimates reflect people’s choice of plans that offer the lowest premiums.

The most critical assessments of the program came from Democrats. When McClellan said the agency was trying to make the program “even easier” to understand, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said: “Even easier? It’s bedlam out there.”

About 42 million older people and the disabled are eligible to participate in the drug benefit. They do so by enrolling in a private insurance plan. The benefit should lower drug costs for most participants because the government is subsidizing their drug costs.

Dozens of states have stepped in, temporarily paying for medicine that beneficiaries have been unable to get through Medicare. McClellan said the government would work to make sure that private plans reimburse the states.

The most serious concerns about the benefit center on the 6 million low-income people who had obtained drug coverage through Medicaid. In the transition to Medicare, a few hundred thousand may have had trouble because of data errors and because they switched plans late in the year, McClellan said.

Michael Donato of Mayfield, Ohio, told senators that his pharmacy tried to charge him $700 when he first tried to get his prescriptions filled. The problems were corrected. Now he can take all nine of the medications he needs — something he was never able to do through his old Medicaid coverage.

“But what about the seniors?” he said. “What happens to people who don’t have the help I had? I hope that you will give them the assistance they need.”

McClellan said the government makes “no excuses for the problems. They are important, they are ours to solve and we are finding and fixing them.”

The Bush administration had asked private insurers to supply older people with an additional 60-day supply of medicine in emergency cases.

That will give beneficiaries more time to find alternative treatments when their plan will not cover a prescription or more time to file an appeal. Pharmacists had warned that the previous 30-day limit could pose significant problems for poor older people and the disabled.

The program is working for most people, McClellan said, and competition among the private plans was driving down costs.

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