WPS Health Insurance: Survey of WI seniors finds 85 percent are aware of the new Medicare drug coverage, but fewer than half understand the benefit


Kris Naidl, 414-276-6237/414-614-6208

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Ongoing outreach efforts and specific plan information after Oct. 1

should help educate more seniors

MADISON – With the most significant change ever to the federal Medicare program just a few months away, a statewide survey by WPS Health Insurance found that 85 percent of seniors are aware of the new Medicare prescription drug coverage, but fewer than half have a good understanding of the benefit.

“The great news is that the vast majority of Wisconsin seniors know that change is coming, and that awareness is crucial,” said Guenther Ruch, senior vice president of WPS. “But the research shows there also needs to be more educational outreach to seniors about how the benefit can affect them, their coverage options, where to turn for more information and plan specifics.”

The survey found that only 39 percent of Wisconsin seniors say they understand “very or somewhat well” the new Medicare drug coverage benefit, but according to Ruch, that is not surprising at this point.

“It’s good that Wisconsin seniors know it’s coming because they need to play a role in reviewing and considering this benefit, as this is one of the first times there is action necessary on the parts of Medicare recipients in order to receive Medicare benefits,” said Ruch. “Our hope is that as details can be shared about the plans and outreach efforts by senior and community groups continue, knowledge about the program will grow.”

Per the federal government’s guidelines on the program, companies like WPS that intend to offer Medicare prescription drug plans can begin to share plan details on October 1, 2005. In addition, many Wisconsin senior, county and community organizations are starting to hold informational sessions around the state to educate seniors about the upcoming changes. The new Medicare prescription drug coverage takes effect January 1, 2006, and those eligible are able to first enroll on November 15, 2005.

The survey was conducted by WPS to understand Wisconsin seniors’ knowledge about the program, what information seniors need, and what type of Medicare plans will best serve Wisconsin seniors. The statewide random phone survey was conducted by The Dieringer Research Group in late July and interviewed 200 Wisconsin household residents age 65 or older.

Other key findings of the survey include:

General impressions of the new Medicare drug benefit appear somewhat mixed or not yet formed with 45 percent of seniors having a “neutral, neither favorable nor unfavorable” impression and 12 percent simply not having an impression yet.
Approximately 2 out of 5 seniors surveyed (37%) indicate they do not currently have any coverage that helps pay for the cost of prescription drugs.

Overall, 27% of Wisconsin seniors surveyed indicate they are likely to enroll in a new Medicare drug plan during the initial open enrollment period. Others indicate they are either unlikely to enroll, do not need the new drug plan because of their existing coverage, or don’t know.

Seniors currently lacking prescription drug coverage are more likely to indicate they would enroll in a new Medicare drug plan, with approximately 2 out of 5 (38%) indicating they are likely to enroll.

Just under half of seniors (46%) indicate they are confident they would be able to choose a drug plan that is right for them whereas 24% indicate they are not confident they could do so and 31% say they aren’t sure or it’s too early for them to tell.

“Wisconsin seniors are astute consumers, and as more information is shared and details are released, we will see residents’ knowledge and confidence levels about the program increase,” said Ruch. “While the program is complex, there will certainly be help available. In addition, our ongoing research indicates seniors want simple and predictable drug plans, and they should feel confident that insurers are listening.”

WPS Health Insurance is one of the largest health benefits providers in Wisconsin, and after nearly 60 years, remains Wisconsin’s only not-for-profit insurer offering health plans statewide to the public and private sectors. With offices in Madison, Milwaukee, Wausau, Appleton and Eau Claire, and more than 5,700 employees, WPS is deeply committed to Wisconsin and its citizens.

For more information about WPS Health Insurance, visit www.wpsic.com. For more information about Medicare prescription drug plan coverage – and after Oct. 1, 2005, information about WPS’ Medicare prescription drug plans – visit www.wpsmedicaredrugs.com.