Baldacci urges Bush to cure Medicare woes

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Thousands of Mainers still aren’t getting what they need from the new federal drug program, causing the state to spend up to $140,000 a week on medicine that should have be paid for by Medicare.

Gov. John Baldacci says enough is enough.

In a two-page letter sent Monday, the governor told President Bush that Medicare Part D is “imposing a growing financial and administrative burden on Maine.” The problems need to be fixed, he said. Urgently.

Medicare Part D started Jan. 1 to provide prescription drug plans to the elderly and disabled. But the program quickly floundered under a tide of computer glitches and enrollment problems. Within days, Maine began picking up the tab for people who couldn’t get what they needed from the federal program.

“Our goal is to make sure people don’t leave (the pharmacy) without their drugs,” said Jude Walsh, head of prescription drug programs for the Governor’s Office of Health Policy and Finance.

At one point, the state was spending $100,000 a day on that safety net.

The federal government agreed to reimburse Maine for the money it spent, but only through March 31. With 400 to 500 calls a day to the state’s Medicare hot line, Maine decided to keep paying for drugs indefinitely, even if the federal government wouldn’t pay the money back.

Maine spent more than $8 million on drugs through March 31, according to Walsh. Although Maine should be reimbursed for that, it hasn’t received any money.

The state is spending between $100,000 to $140,000 a week for Mainers who are having problems with Medicare Part D. Their situations vary, including:

• Some patients changed prescription plans and found themselves without coverage for weeks because their old plan was canceled before their new plan picked up.

• Low-income people were charged deductibles and high co-pays because their subsidy eligibility took weeks to be recognized.

• Patients paid deductibles toward an out-of-pocket maximum, but those payments weren’t counted when they changed plans.

• Maine has tried since February to enroll 6,000 people in Medicare Part D, but has not received confirmation. The enrollment deadline is now less than a week away.

Maine officials and others asked the federal government to extend the May 15 enrollment deadline. So far, federal officials have said no.

According to the federal government, millions of people have signed up for Medicare Part D across the country. Federal officials are offering extra online and phone support to those who haven’t enrolled and need help to meet the deadline.

Maine say that extra enrollment help is nice, but it’s not good enough.

“The State of Maine cannot continue to absorb a financial burden due to continued federal system glitches with Medicare Part D,” Baldacci said in his letter.

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