Rx for chaos and confusion


And two aspirins won't help!

Millions of senior citizens are trying to sort out the choices available to them in the new Medicare prescription drug benefit. It's a daunting task.

Bush touts Rx benefit

President Bush, sometimes accompanied by his mama, tries to paint a rosy picture of the benefit. He'd like to take credit for something good. Anything good.

To help seniors choose a plan — offered by private companies and all different — the government has set up various tools at Medicare.gov, notwithstanding that most seniors have never been online in their life, and if they have it has rarely been for anything more complex than sending emails to the grandkids.

seniors choosing a prescription plan

I thought it would be fun (yeah, right!) to see what the experience would be like. This is a matter of some interest to me. I take enough drugs to stock a small pharmacy, and they "cost" (so says the insurance company) $4000 so far this year.

my meds

When I went to medicare.gov, there was a prominent link to "Compare Medicare Prescription Drug Plans." So far so good. I clicked.

Oh, oh. They want to "personalize" the information for me, so I am required to fill in my current Medicare information:

required information

Now here's where it gets stupid. The site says it is not going to keep any of the information I provide, but the form is set up so that I must fill it in before it will proceed to the next step. So, I fill in a bogus Medicare number, bogus birthdate, and my real last name and zip code. Since it clearly doesn't use the Medicare number, birthdate, and Medicare coverage date, this is just another meaningless and unnecessary hurdle to jump.

Moving ahead, it tells me that it is not going to use any of the information it has just forced me to enter, except for the zip code. It then asks me again what my zip code is!!

I answer truthfully that my existing coverage comes from an employer-sponsored PPO plan. I'm now ready to "Search for plans." The site gleefully reports that there are 48 plans available in my area!

48 plans available

It advises me that if I spend more than $35 per month on prescription drugs to provide my list of medications so it can find the best plan to cover my needs.

enter medications

Oops! Too busy! Can't help you now! Try again later!

page not available

Never mind, I'll proceed without listing the medications.

The site now presents me with a table, five rows (plans) per page, spread over 10 pages.

table headers

I take advantage of the option to see the entire table on one page (pdf).

I know there's an argument to be made that any prescription benefit is better than no benefit at all, and that the program can always be fixed later, but this is ridiculous! No wonder people are confused!