WASHINGTON: Medicare's new prescription drug benefit goes into effect January 1, and organizations are in full swing to help beneficiaries navigate the program.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) has created a toolkit for community groups that includes training materials, key messages, sample forms, and fact sheets. It also provides resources for writing bylined articles and creating radio PSAs.
The government agency is relying on these medical, senior citizen, and advocacy groups - as well as the marketing efforts of drug and health insurance companies - to streamline the enrollment effort.
One of the largest coalitions is Medicare Today, a partnership of 110 local groups.
The group has identified 300 spokespeople among Medicare beneficiaries and caregivers, and has collected 400 of their stories.
It is also conducting ongoing seminars, events, and press conferences to explain the program as well as present research it commissioned on the potential cost savings from the new drug plans.
Another coalition, sponsored by Pfizer and backed by about two dozen advocacy groups, is relying on the star power of former Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) to deliver a message of "empowerment," taking on critics who blasted the program for being too confusing.
Through local speeches and events, Dole told seniors not to let anyone talk down to them, according to Patrick Brady, director of public affairs at Spectrum Science, which worked on the campaign for Pfizer.
"I think that helped alleviate some of the trepidation people felt," he said. "It really helped them get excited and jazzed up about the program."
Senior CMS office Leslie Norwalk often joined Dole on his speaking tour. "Our goal was to go into an area and really take over the media," Brady said.
But he noted that the focus was strictly educational. "When we started this campaign, we were kind of in the throes of a presidential election," he said. "Our goal was to keep politics out of it."