CHICAGO – In light of the fact that thousands of Illinois’ low-income seniors and persons with disabilities did not enroll in a Medicare Part D plan by the federal deadline of May 15th, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich announced today that the state’s Illinois Cares Rx program will continue to cover this population through December 2006. Open enrollment for Medicare Part D does not start again until November 15, 2006, which means they will not be able to receive benefits until January 1, 2007.
“The deadline to enroll in Medicare Part D has come and gone and still thousands of Illinois’ most vulnerable seniors do not have the critical prescription drug coverage they need,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “It would be wrong to turn our back on people who need their medicine just because they missed an arbitrary deadline. That’s why we’re making sure they can get drug coverage through the state’s Illinois Cares Rx program while they wait for the next opportunity to enroll in Medicare Part D.”
The Illinois Departments on Aging (IDoA) and Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) along with the Senior Health Insurance Program (SHIP) have been working together since August 2005 hosting Medicare Part D and Illinois Cares Rx enrollment events in over 250 communities, staffing hotlines, and providing one on one counseling at hundred of locations across the state. Last weekend, the Governor announced that these state agencies would extend their hotline hours and staffing until Midnight on Monday, May 15th, 2006.
Despite the ramp up in resources and aggressive outreach efforts, the complicated federal program was too daunting for hundreds of thousands of Illinois seniors, including thousands of the low-income, vulnerable residents who need affordable prescription drug coverage the most.
So, the Governor today ordered HFS to directly cover prescription drugs for Illinois Care Rx enrollees who have not yet enrolled in Medicare Part D.
Seniors eligible for Medicare Part D and Illinois Cares Rx who did not select a Medicare Part D plan must select a Medicare Part D plan when enrollment reopens in November. Once a senior has enrolled in a Medicare Part D plan and begins receiving benefits, the Illinois Cares Rx coverage will still provide the wrap around coverage that it was designed to provide.
“We will provide this critical protection to our vulnerable seniors and persons with disabilities as long as necessary,” said HFS Director Barry Maram.
The federal Medicare Modernization Act has a $250 deductible and then pays 75 percent of prescription drug costs after that deductible up to $2,250 worth of drugs with an average $32 per month premium. Beneficiaries are responsible for all of their costs between $2,250 and $5,100, with the plan paying 95 percent of costs beyond that top threshold. The gap where a beneficiary has to pay all the drug costs between $2,250 and $5,100 is commonly referred to as the “donut hole.”
Gov. Blagojevich’s Illinois Cares Rx program was designed to lower the costs mentioned above. The Governor’s program allows Illinois’ low-income seniors and persons with disabilities including those who have been getting prescription drug assistance through state programs, to avoid high out-of-pocket expenses and gaps in coverage created by the new Medicare Part D program. To be eligible for Illinois Cares Rx, individual seniors can have an annual income of up to $21,218 or less. A couple can have an annual income up to $28,480. There is no asset test.
Governor Blagojevich’s ongoing efforts to help seniors through the Medicare Part D program are part of his long standing effort to make sure that more people get more health care and better benefits, protect coverage for those who have health care, and help hospitals, doctors and nurses provide better health care. Under the Blagojevich administration, Illinoisans benefit from a wide array of programs designed to assist them with the high cost of prescription drugs: Illinois Cares Rx, the Rx Buying Club and the I-SaveRx drug importation program.
Illinois seniors and persons with disabilities who want to find out if they are eligible for or enroll in the Illinois Cares Rx program, need assistance with Medicare Part D enrollment or who would like to know the nearest location of one of the over 200 SHIP offices, should call the Department on Aging Help Line at 1-800-252-8966, the Senior Health Insurance Program at 1-800-548-9034 or visit www.illinoisbenefits.org or www.idfpr.com/DOI/Ship/ship_volunteers.asp.