Originally created 01/04/06

'Mild chaos' accompanies drug benefit

Helen Wren was in Barney's Pharmacy on Tuesday even though she didn't need a refill. She just wanted to know how her Medicare prescription drug coverage was supposed to work.

Based on what was happening at Barney's, the answer is: not very well. Others, however, say things are getting better.

The scene at Barney's is probably being played out across Augusta and the country in the first days of Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage provided through private companies that took effect Sunday. When pharmacist David Pope answered one phone Tuesday morning at Barney's, he already had another phone pressed against his other ear, the beginning of a two-hour wait with an insurance company that he was later forced to abandon.

"I still don't have an answer on that one," he said. Companies have provided help desks, but some of them weren't even staffed in the first couple of days, said Barry Bryant, owner of Barney's.

"They weren't there to help on the help desk," he said. "And then they're there today but evidently they're understaffed or don't have enough manpower to handle the volume of calls."

Some customers showed up with just their Medicare card or hadn't been mailed the new drug card from one of the more than 40 companies serving Georgia, which meant going online to find out who had their coverage, Mr. Pope said.

"So we're doing a lot of legwork right now just trying to find it," Mr. Pope said. "We're committed to our patients to do that. We're here to help straighten things out."

The result, however, is what he called "mild chaos."

Other pharmacists, such as Earl Wright of Surrey Center Pharmacy, said that the problems that plagued them early on were being worked out Tuesday afternoon.

"There were some software glitches in the beginning that seem to have worked out last night and this morning," Mr. Wright said. "We think it's going pretty good. We of course have been preparing for this for a long time, and we had tried our best to be ready."

About 135,000 people in Georgia who were eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare were automatically enrolled in one of the Part D prescription plans, and so far it hasn't been a problem, said Julie Kerlin, spokeswoman for the Department of Community Health, which oversees Medicaid in Georgia.

"We really aren't seeing a lot of problems, with regard to Medicaid," she said.

State Health Benefit Plan members eligible for Medicare faced steep premium increases if they didn't enroll in Part D, but so far there has been no word of problems from them, Ms. Kerlin said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or .

Medicare Part D

Many of those enrolled in a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan might not have received a card yet from the company they chose. In that case, it is best to bring the letter with the confirmation number from the company to the pharmacy or, failing that, to bring the Medicare card. Above all, while the system works itself out, pharmacists are asking for patience and understanding.If you have not yet enrolled in Medicare Part D and would like to enroll online or compare plans, go to www.medicare.gov.


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