Medicare eligible persons should be aware of companies making solicitations for prescription drug discount cards that appear to be part of the new Medicare prescription discount card program. People should know that at the current time there are no "Medicare Approved" prescription discount cards.

Companies have made application to Medicare and approved companies will be determined by the end of March. Approved companies will be able to begin marketing in April.

Any prescription discount cards advertised before that time are not "Medicare approved" and may fall short of what seniors are expecting. Seniors should know that enrollment fees for these cards may exceed what is allowed by Medicare, discounts may not be as great, and the cards may not be accepted by many pharmacies.

Seniors should remember: The cards, with the exception of an annual allowance for very low income persons, will not pay for medicines. They are only a temporary measure to provide some discounts before Medicare's expanded prescription drug benefit takes effect in 2006. Over 100 companies have applied to issue Medicare drug discount cards. It is unknown how many will be marketed in Washington. The discount card is voluntary for Medicare beneficiaries; however, a person can enroll in only one Medicare drug discount card program. The discount drug cards may provide discounts of 10 percent to 25 percent on the price of prescriptions, but different cards will cover different drugs. Enrollment will start in May and will cost beneficiaries an annual fee of up to $30 to enroll. Medicare will establish a Web site where beneficiaries can compare prices and cards. The effective date for when beneficiaries will be able to use the cards is expected to be June 2004.

When Medicare approves card sponsors in early April, the pharmacies will then be able to provide more information. Until that time, feel free to ask your pharmacist about any prescription discount card solicitation that you might receive.

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