FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Citing confusion among seniors, federal officials said Wednesday that starting next year, they will forbid Medicare drug plans from listing the names of sponsoring pharmacies, doctors and other medical providers on the plans’ membership cards.

Some drug plans had “co-brand” sponsor agreements with large drug chains, and put the store name or logo on plan membership cards. But officials have received complaints that some Medicare recipients may mistakenly think the coverage was not accepted at other stores.

“What we’re trying to get away from is someone thinking that’s the only pharmacy they can go to,” said Medicare spokesman Peter Ashkenaz. “There has been some confusion, especially in (Florida).” The ban of store names on the cards takes effect on Jan. 1.

The most notable example in South Florida is an arrangement between Walgreens drugstores and United Healthcare. United’s coverage plan, endorsed by AARP, is the largest in the state with at least 248,000 members, and the membership card carries the Walgreens and AARP names. The new ban does not apply to co-branding with AARP or other non-commercial sponsors.

Many independent and specialty pharmacists contend they have lost business from seniors who thought they had to go to the stores listed on their membership cards.

Under the new Medicare policy, drug plans still can strike co-brand sponsor deals with stores and doctors, but cannot put the sponsor name on the card. If they mention the sponsor deal in their recruiting materials, they have to spell out that the sponsor is not the only provider available.

Walgreens spokesman Michael Polzin said the Walgreens’ name is on the back of every United card – and can remain there – because a Walgreens’ subsidiary administers the United drug plans.

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