The Marshall County Council on Aging (COA) recently announced it saved the seniors in the county $1,343,491.84 with the State Health Insurance Program (SHIP).

Tammy McElroy, director of the Marshall County COA, said they assisted around 500 seniors over the past year. She said many of the county’s seniors are living on low incomes, and they use SHIP and other programs to help them save money.

“In some cases, we have seniors that have to decide whether to take medicine or pay their electric bill or eat,” McElroy said. “This is not only a savings, it’s a lifesaving situation for some of our seniors.”

McElroy said with the help of Council on Aging SHIP Coordinator Rita Patterson, they help as many seniors as they can each year.

“Our SHIP program encourages seniors to come in for open enrollment period for annual comparison,” Patterson said. “This past open enrollment period, Tammy and I saved our clients [money] by reviewing their current ‘Part D Plan’ with those for 2019 and enrolling them to a plan with all their meds on the formulary. That’s money kept here in Marshall County.”

According to Patterson, the COA has assisted seniors with prescription drug costs.

“This is a huge cost saving for our seniors,” Patterson said. “In 2018, they paid 51 percent of the cost of generic drugs and 40 percent of the cost for brand-name drugs while in the coverage gap or ‘Donut Hole.’ This year they will pay 37 percent for the cost of generic drugs and 25 percent for brand name drugs. The changes affect those seniors taking several expensive brand-name maintenance medications for health issues like COPD, diabetes, heart disease, cholesterol, cancer and dementia. Most of our clients are on at least one.”

Patterson said the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 moved up the date for closing the “Donut Hole” for brand name medications to 2019. She said this means, that for brand-name medications, even when one enters into the “Donut Hole,” the co-pay would stay 25 percent, and this saves many people a lot of money. She said clients would still pay 37 percent of the costs for generic medications, but this is usually a relatively small amount because most generic medications are affordable.

“The reason they call it the Medicare ‘Donut Hole’ is because it’s a hole in the middle of your drug coverage during a calendar year,” Patterson said. “It is a period of the year when your medication costs can be higher. Medicare designed the coverage gap to encourage beneficiaries to choose generics or drug alternatives that are lower in cost.”

Patterson said for anyone with questions about Medicare, call the Marshall County Council on Aging at 256-571-7805.

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