A coalition of groups is urging Senator Charles Grassley to take a “lead role” and extend the deadline for signing up for Medicare’s prescription drug benefit. The deadline is next Monday, the 15th, but Betty Ahrens of the Iowa Citizen Action Network says the sign-up process has been too complicated.

“That’s why we are calling on our Congress, we are calling on Senator Grassley to take a lead and stand up for Iowa seniors (and) extend this deadline and give congress the opportunity to fix Medicare Part D,” Ahrens says. Ahrens says a new report shows only 20 percent of low-income seniors in Iowa who are eligible for the outright subsidy that covers the cost of their prescriptions have signed up.

Ahrens says to get the subsidy for prescription drugs low-income seniors must complete two separate applications. Because of the confusion, the Bush Administration will allow America’s low-income seniors who’re eligible for the subsidy to sign up after May 15th and not be subjected to financial penalties. According to the Families U.S.A. report, about 88-thousand low-income Iowans are eligible for that outright subsidy, but by April 28th, fewer than 18-thousand were enrolled.

Amy Knudsen, interim director of Iowa Coalition for Housing and the Homeless, says low-income seniors often don’t have ready access to the Internet or even a phone which have been the main means for signing up for the subsidy. That means those low-income seniors have to depend on help from a staffer at a senior center or nursing home, or their pharmacist, to get them signed up.

Inez Dawes of the Iowa Methodist Conference works with some of the state’s poorest citizens, and she says it isn’t enough to extend the sign-up period for low income folks who are eligible for the subsidy that will cover their prescription costs.
“The numbers aren’t too encouraging,” she says. “If we only have 20 percent of the folk enrolled who are eligible then we have a long way to go.”

Dawes says her group supports whatever can be done to “uncomplicate” the sign-up system. Ahrens, the executive director of the Iowa Citizen Action Network, agrees that it’s not enough to just extend the enrollment deadline past May 15th. “There’s a lot of work to be done…to fix this plan so that seniors have a benefit that is simple, affordable and guaranteed,” Ahrens says.