By the time this is out, hopefully north Pacific County folks have already participated in the Medicare Part D forum in Raymond - held Sept. 13 at St. Lawrence Catholic Church. And hopefully, we're as knowledgeable as we can expect to be at this point.

On Thursday, Sept. 15, our south Pacific County folks will have the same opportunity. Although the same outline for the Medicare prescription program (Part D) will be used as in former meetings, I've found that each time I get a little better picture of how it will all unfold. So this Thursday, Sept. 15, at the Peninsula Church Center in Seaview, at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m., we will once again be presenting the information we have.

Representatives from NW Justice, Social Security, and the Office of Insurance Commissioner will also be there to present information and answer questions.

Come October, the names of the insurance companies who will be involved in Part D will become public. These will be posted on the medicare and/or social security Web sites, as well as being made known through community agencies, etc. by mid-October. The choice then becomes which one will best meet your needs relative to your ongoing prescription needs.

At least one point regarding Medicare Part D bears repeating due to some confusion we've encountered: Signing-up for Part D is NOT mandatory. You will, however, need to decide whether or not you are signing up - and remember that if you change your mind at a later date, there will be a penalty of 1 percent per month from the time of original enrollment. And enrollment is once a year.

Another point: If you currently have prescription coverage that is as good as - or better - than Medicare Part D, keep it. You are not expected or required to dump your plan and enroll in the Medicare plan.

As we continue to work with all the details, one thing that begins to stand out would seem fairly obvious: Individuals need to look at this individually. The forums are for general information, and so we often hear "I have coverage through my retirement, so..." or "Yes, but what about my situation? I need..." and so on. Your specific circumstances include individualized dynamics. For example: During a presentation, the cost of the program (deductibles, premium, etc.) apply to some, but not others. Subsidized assistance and co-pays apply to others. And when the insurance companies are posted, each person will have to examine formularies and prescription lists.

After October, we will be working with volunteers and staff to make opportunities for folks in our community to sit down and individually examine options. So just another reminder: Not all aspects of Medicare Part D apply to all people.

So - come to the forum. Give us a call. Contact Social Security. Get the information and we will all work together to make it happen. It's information and assistance.

Senior Information & AssistanceLong Beach: 642-3634 or (888) 571-6558

Raymond: 942-2177 or (888) 571-6557

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