Press Releases

Carper Urges Medicare Chief to Extend Sign-up Deadline for Drug Plan

Seniors Need More Time to Make Sure Benefit is Right for Them, Carper Says

May 10 2006

WASHINGTON (May 10, 2006) – Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., today sent a letter to Medicare chief Mark McClellan, urging him to extend the May 15th sign-up deadline for the new Part D drug benefit through the end of the year in order to give seniors more time to determine whether the plan makes sense for them. If Medicare-eligible seniors don’t sign up for the new drug benefit by the May 15th deadline and instead sign up later, they will face a penalty – about a one percent increase in their premiums for each month they waited to enroll. But because of the confusion surrounding the implementation of the new benefit – and the wide variety of drug plans available to seniors – Carper said it would be unfair to penalize beneficiaries at this time. Instead, he urged Medicare to extend the May 15th deadline through the remainder of 2006, or, at the very least, not charge seniors a financial penalty if they choose to sign up during the next open enrollment period, scheduled for Nov. 15-December 31. “Given the confusion surrounding the implementation of the new drug benefit, I think we should give seniors more time to figure out if this new benefit makes sense to them,” said Carper. “My hope is that the enrollment deadline will be extended this year in order to accommodate them.” The full copy of the letter is below: May 10, 2006 Administrator Mark McClellan, M.D., Ph.D. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services 200 Independence Ave., S.W., #314-G Washington, D.C. 20201 Dear Dr. McClellan: In order to make sure that seniors have ample time to determine whether the new Medicare Part D benefit is right for them, I am writing to urge you extend the May 15th enrollment deadline through the end of the year. In December 2003, Congress enacted legislation to add a new prescription drug benefit to the Medicare program. This new law was the largest expansion of the Medicare program since it was created more than 40 years ago. Despite some reservations I had about the legislation, I viewed the bill as a positive first step toward finally providing drug coverage for seniors under Medicare and voted for its final passage. After the bill was signed into law, I worked with our state's congressional delegation to reach out to various organizations, including CMS, to help educate the public about the new Part D benefit. I'm pleased to say we've had tremendous success in Delaware. As of April 2006, Delaware has the highest enrollment rate of any state in the nation. Not every state has had the success that Delaware has had educating seniors about the new drug benefit, however, and even in our state, I still hear complaints from constituents that the prescription drug benefit is confusing. Medicare beneficiaries in Delaware and other states face a number of prescription drug options, and each of these plans differ in terms of premiums, cost-sharing requirements, drugs covered, and pharmacy access. It was previously determined that eligible beneficiaries would have until May 15, 2006, to enroll in the new Part D program. After that date, those eligible for enrollment when the program started would be penalized by a one percent increase in their premiums for each month they delayed entry into the program. At this point, due to the confusing nature of the new benefit, it seems unfair to penalize seniors who have yet to enroll in the new Part D program but who may choose to do so later this year. I believe that CMS should allow seniors to enroll in the new benefit at any point this year without being penalized. However, given the administration’s opposition to extending the May 15th deadline for open enrollment, I would suggest an alternative: allow beneficiaries to sign up during the next open enrollment period, which runs from November 15 to December 31, 2006, without fear of penalty. By extending the enrollment deadline through the end of the year or by waiving the financial penalty for seniors who choose to sign up during the next open enrollment period, you will be ensuring that seniors have the time and assistance to choose the best prescription drug plan. I appreciate your attention and assistance on this matter, and look forward to hearing your response. With best personal regards, I am Sincerely yours, Thomas R. Carper United States Senator