Medicare Part D Rollout: A Story of Challenges / Success

In Buffalo, Minnesota an initiative is underway between various community organizations which may serve as a template for many communities to ease barriers to Part D information access and assist Medicare eligible people make an informed choice.

Overlooked in the rollout are the underutilized resources in most communities that are available through Community Education or County and State Extension Services. The many resources such as: school computer labs with internet access; volunteers to operate computers; and a responsive contact staff could serve 60% to 80% of the eligible population effectively and economically. All of this could make the six-week enrollment period at the end of 2006 to be successful.

Medicare’s uneven Part D rollout combined with vendor influenced “information” sessions and a five-plus day response times from SHIP authorized healthcare insurance consultants is preventing many people from enrolling. Another challenge to the roll-out is that there are fewer than 500 consultants to serve Minnesota’s 700,000 eligible people. In order to help the participants in Buffalo we created a project that we are calling “A Senior’s Friend” as a volunteer support network we continue to look for ways to support older adults living independently and safely.

With assistance from congressional district staff to bring key people together, Community Education, Technical Center (alternative high school), assisted living, Senior Linkage Line (SHIP authorized health insurance consultants), Ministerial Association, Community Center (senior center), local pharmacists, community service organizations and volunteers met to find ways to help people with Part D.

Creating points of human contact, avoiding voicemail and phone trees, developing reliable sources of transportation to provide a degree of spontaneity for those lacking transportation or who shouldn’t drive, developing home safety review/resolution with fall prevention, and expanding outreach and access to existing beneficial programs are among the areas we are working to improve in Wright County Minnesota.

In less than three weeks, “A Senior’s Friend” announced availability of hundreds of free seats at the Technical Center computer lab where volunteers will provide online navigation so that an eligible person can get plan comparisons based on their medications. The volunteers are supported by Senior Linkage Line consultants, pharmacists and experienced people.

Local media, community service organizations and churches are helping announce the availability. Community Education is managing the sign-ups and confirming process including offering to arrange transportation.

A training guide on how to operate the online service was created and reviewed by Senior Linkage Line and is being used to train volunteers. The first public session was held Thursday, January 26, 2006 and will continue through May 15, 2006 alternating morning and afternoon/evening sessions each week.

Participants are given an opportunity to enroll if they choose to and informed on how to get the claim submission information their pharmacy will need in a day or so while they wait for their benefit plan card to arrive by mail several weeks following enrollment. Participants may also take printed details for study and return at a future session for assistance with enrollment. Individuals with complex needs are referred to a consultant and financial assistance applications are provided as needed.

It may be possible to recreate this initiative in other communities in a very short time and assist many people in getting their Part D information. It may also be possible to establish ongoing Community Education programs to assist people with Part D annually as well as access and utilize the Benefits Check-Up Web tool, perhaps on a quarterly basis consistent with their programming. Programs like this can help the Community Education or State and County Extension Services fulfill their mission. Community programs create the possibility for discovering or rediscovering the affinity that exists across age and interest groups in appealing and enjoyable ways.

Dave Strait, of Buffalo, MN can be reached at 612-245-1268 or by e-mail at dave@1man.org. Your comments, insights and support for this community program are welcomed and appreciated.