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Kathryn Foxhall is a healthcare journalist based in the Washington, D.C., area.
In an extension of cooperation begun earlier this year, health insurance plans and pharmacist groups have created a booklet and a Web site to guide Medicare beneficiaries through choosing a 2007 Part D plan, just as open enrollment is set to begin on Nov. 15.
The 48-page booklet and Web site are designed to be plain-language supplements to the government's Medicare and You publication and cut through some of the confusion that occurred early this year. They contain basic facts about Medicare prescription coverage, types of Medicare plans, and factors to consider when selecting a plan. There is also information on how to avoid the coverage gap, where to find out about specific plans, and where to go for additional help. Called Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Guide, How to Choose Your 2007 Plan, the publication is a joint project by America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, and the National Community Pharmacists Association.
The groups' Oct. 12 announcement on Capitol Hill came the day before the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services held a press briefing on enhancements in its own consumer information on http://www.medicare.gov/.
NACDS interim CEO Robert Hannan, noting that during the Part D startup this year pharmacists did not have a particularly good tool to help beneficiaries, said, "That's been corrected with this guide. In 2007, Medicare beneficiaries are going to have the option of even more plans," he said, adding that the new document helps beneficiaries completely understand the choices.
The booklet is an outgrowth of the cooperation during the first half of this year. That's when the pharmacist groups and the health plans worked together to cut down on Part D confusion by standardizing the messages that the plans send to pharmacists about beneficiaries' coverage, according to both groups.
"You are seeing another chapter in that collaboration today," Ignagni said. "We now have gotten to know one another. We have gotten to have a sense of each others' issues."
Douglas Hoey, R.Ph., M.B.A., senior VP of NCPA, indicated there's still some amazement in his organization that the pharmacy groups are launching initiatives with the health insurance plans. But he said the "unique, strong coalition" benefits millions of Americans in the healthcare system. The booklet is like "the USA Today version," he said. "It's got the color. It's short and to the point." He indicated that all community pharmacist members will be getting alerts about the Web site.
Hannan said many chain drugstores will be using the booklet and NACDS also is urging pharmacies to print the publication from the Web site and put their own logo on it. It's available for downloading at http://www.healthdecisions.org/
Hoey said that although it might not be feasible for some pharmacists to print the entire booklet for all patients who may want it, "some of them could print sections as they talk to the patient about it." Copies of the guide are also being offered to members of Congress, both for their Washington offices and their state and district offices, and to the SHIPs and other state agencies.
Ignagni said pharmacists could also obtain a hard copy from AHIP, at 601 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, South Bldg., Suite 500, Washington, D.C. 20004, (202) 778-3200. CMS officials have been aware of the development of the guide and, although they have made no official endorsement, they have no objections to it, according to Ignagni.