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Charlotte Amalie
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V.I. Seniors Get Help With Complicated Medicare Act

Oct. 3, 2004 – V.I. seniors got help sifting through the massive Medicare Modernization Act on Saturday in a seminar hosted by AARP of the Virgin Islands. The act signals the first changes in prescription drug and preventative health service benefits since 1965.
Samuel E. Morch, AARP V.I. state president, said the plan offers preventative health screening and prescription drug benefits to all seniors by 2006.
"It’s a step toward a national health insurance," Morch said.
However, the 1,200-page document is not without its problems, and seniors all across the country have called the plan confusing. The transitional phase of the program gives Medicare beneficiaries' immediate savings on prescription drugs – if they meet the annual income qualifications of no more than $12,569 for a single person and no more than $16,862 for a married couple. In addition, V.I. seniors may qualify for a $465 credit on selected Medicare-approved drug discount cards.
"Most V.I. seniors make more than that," Joyce L. Christian, AARP volunteer, said. Christian explained details of the drug discount cards to the audience of about 30 seniors gathered for the seminar at Gertrude's Restaurant on St. Croix. Christian warned seniors to beware of scams. "Make sure your card has the approved Medicare seal: it will be in black or blue."
The disparity of benefits to V.I. seniors was evident in the plan. Medicare has approved a $600 statewide discount, but only $465 to territories. (See "Seniors' New Drug Benefits Will Be Less in V.I.").
"I am very upset about what is happening to the V.I.," Christian said. "We pay the same amount as everyone else and we should get the same benefits." Beneficiaries pay into the program through federal Social Security taxes. The V.I. will receive only $690,000 to implement the drug discount cards, also less than what is awarded in the states, Christian said
V.I. seniors have to demand equal representation, Denyce E. Singleton, AARP V.I. state director, said. Singleton suggested addressing concerns to Dr. Cora L. Christian, who was appointed to the AARP board of directors in April and to ask friends and family stateside to call their congressional representatives and say they won't get their vote unless they do the right thing for V.I. seniors.
"We have to be our brother's keepers," Singleton said.
In April, AARP registered over 1,300 Medicare beneficiaries territorywide in the Medicare Prescription Drug Transitional Assistance Program.
Olric Carrington, 80, of Frederiksted, was concerned that many seniors were put off by the complexity of the plan. "It's confusing for most," Carrington said, wanting to know why the eligibility ceiling is so low. He calculated that a person would have to retire on a $12,000 salary to be eligible for the $8,000 annual income qualification.
The determination was based on average stateside poverty levels, Singleton explained.
To get more information on the Medicare prescription drug plan and the Medicare Modernization Act, contact the V.I. State Health Insurance Assistance program at 772-7369 (St. Croix) or 714-4354 (St. Thomas/St. John) or call 1-800-MEDICARE.
Seniors who are computer-literate or with friends or family members who can help can also get personalized help through the Medicare Web site, at www.medicare.gov", by following the prompts under the heading "Prescription Drug and Other Assistance Programs."
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