Qualifying Individuals may still receive the $600 credit available to them in 2004 if they sign up now for a Medicare drug discount card, or, if already in a card, apply now for the credit.  Anyone interested in qualifying for the $600 Transitional Assistance (TA) that comes with a Medicare-endorsed discount drug card has from now until December 31, 2004 to apply for it.  If a card sponsor receives the application for a card and for TA, or just for TA if the individual already has a card, by December 31, and the applicant is found eligible, she or he is entitled to the $600 credit for 2004 as well as a full $600 credit for 2005.  Any of the $600 for 2004 not spent in 2004 will be carried over to 2005.

Interested individuals should apply now, as those applying after December 2004 will receive only the 2005 allotment, and each quarter of 2005, that allotment will be reduced by $150.  Thus, successful applications received between January 1 and March 31 will result in award of  the $600 credit; those received between April 1 and June 30 will result in a $450 credit, and so on.

November 15, 2004 was the beginning of an open enrollment period for discount cards.  The enrollment period runs through December 31, 2004.  During this time, discount card holders, including those receiving Transitional Assistance, can change cards without any penalty.  If a TA recipient wants to change cards and still has a portion of her TA remaining, the old card sponsor must transfer that amount to the new card sponsor to be included on the new card.

Individuals who receive benefits under one of three Medicare Savings Programs (MSPs) – Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB), Specified Low-income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB) or Qualified Individual (QI) - are considered to be income-eligible for Transitional Assistance but must certify that they have no other source of prescription drug coverage in order to qualify.  In October 2004, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), in collaboration with certain discount drug card sponsors, mailed letters to more than one million MSP beneficiaries. They referred to this initiative as “facilitated enrollment.” The letters contained a pre-selected discount drug card and information about how the recipient could “activate” the card to receive Transitional Assistance. Despite this outreach effort, MSP beneficiary participation in the card and TA program remains relatively low.  Advocates are meeting with CMS officials to evaluate this first effort at facilitated enrollment and determine how to improve it for 2005.

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