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A Baffling New Drug Plan In Texas Town

Bush administration officials in Washington say that Medicare's new prescription drug programme is progressing very well, filling more than three million // prescriptions a day and cutting costs for each beneficiary by an average of 50 percent. But in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas, the scenario is quite different.

A lot of patients complain that they have difficulty getting the drugs they need. Pharmacists who are plagued with questions and complaints from beneficiaries, have had to face many practical problems as they along with the doctors,try to juggle with a complex programme,.

According to Dr. E. Linda Villarreal, a former president of the Hidalgo-Starr County Medical Society, although the programme is intellectually a good one, there has been total chaos and confusion among most of her patients, as they do not understand the system.

While acknowledging that there were problems initially, the administration believes that in recent weeks those issues have declined. But, doubts concerning the benefit have special resonance for Republican and Democratic law-makers alike, who are heading for the midterm elections in November.

As the cost of their drugs reaches the initial coverage limit of $2,250, millions of beneficiaries, in the coming months, will have to pay the full cost of each medicine out-of-pocket till it reaches $3,600. At that point, Medicare resumes its coverage, paying 95 percent of the cost of every prescription.

Texas has 47 different Medicare drug plans, with various premiums, co-payments and lists of the drugs covered, known as formularies.

According to a pharmacist , each plan comes with its own set of problems and there is no central place to resolve the problems.

Pharmacists play a special role in health care in border communities .. Many beneficiaries here are low-income group Mexican-Americans. Some hardly understand English, much less t he concept of the formularies.

Last year President Bush acknowledged that it could be "a daunting task" to select a drug plan from the available assortment. But Medicare officials assert that the benefits are easy to use.

A CBS News/New York Times poll carried out in early may discovered that, 75 percent of the people 65 years and older, said that the new programme was difficult to understand..


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