Friday, November 25, 2005

New York Times Does Outstanding Job Sorting Out Drug Choices For Seniors

When something really complicated comes along, like the new quasi-governmental
plan for seniors drug benefits, you can usually count on the New York Times to do absolutely the best job of anyone sorting it out. It shows why we still need newspapers, and why the Internet can be used, but only intelligently if we read the right newspapers first.

That was the case Thanksgiving Day in the NYT Business Day section, with two very comprehensive articles on the decision now facing millions of seniors as to which drug plan to select and how to go about selecting it. Especially for those of us who take a lot of medicines, the savings can be very sizable.

Polls have indicated widespread confusion about this, since the drug lobby got its tongs into the process and set up a system in the legislation that keeps the inglorious private enterprise system in the middle of the stew. Wait until the plan actually starts in operation Jan. 1, and then we are apt to find out just how bad it is.

But, as the articles by Milt Freudenheim and especially Gina Kolata in the NYT demonstrate, all is not lost yet. There does apparently seem to be a way, particularly, of researching the matter through the government Web site and devining what is best for you, especially if you qualify for Medicare and do not have a prescription plan already.

Kolata's story on navigating the Web site is a masterpiece of its kind. The government would do the public a service, if it simply distributed the New York Times articles to everyone.

There have been some modest Los Angeles Times improvements of the long inferior Business section, but nothing comparable to what the New York Times puts out every day on issues affecting business and the consumer.

The main thing to remember with the drug plan is that if you are past 65 and do not have a current prescription plan, there is a way of saving quite a bit of money, as long as you choose the best plan. And the Medicare Web site is set up to facilitate this if you take the time -- and the New York Times suggests that may take two days -- to really explore it.

Since the plans can be adjusted between now and Jan. 1, it is also wise to check and recheck to see whether you have chosen the best plan for you. You can change your choice repeatedly without penalty before Jan. 1, if the adjustments indicate more advantageous pricing for you. Variables includes the copayments, the formularies that show what drugs are included, and the bottom line, all of which can vary substantially.

So I'm going to take the time to do this. At a Dartmouth College reunion seminar last June, physicians in my class indicated that taking your prescription medicines is one of the most important things you can do to lead a long, happy, healthful life.

Yet the system of incessant drug advertisements does not help us to find the best drug regimen. Far from it, it can set us easily on the wrong path. You've got to find reliable doctors and then follow their advice, even before you select a reimbursement plan.

The L.A. Times, as far as a fairly intensive reading of the paper indicates, has not even approached the N.Y. Times in coverage of the drug plan choices. It should try doing so, and now is the time.

In the meantime, read the New York Times. Unfortunately for Californians in the age of Tribune ownership of the L.A. Times, this is more and more the soundest thing to do.


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