tampabay.com

Medicare savings took toll on patience

By Suzanne Palmer
Published March 11, 2007


Q: I signed up my mother for Enhanced Medicare Part D with Humana in December 2005. I asked that the premium be deducted from her Social Security check. It took me more than two weeks to actually get through.

The first week of January 2006, I called to change payment, for the deduction to her credit card. I had realized that once it started, it would be harder to stop a deduction from the Social Security Administration to refuse the credit card deduction if she chose to cancel Humana. I was assured the deduction would be halted.

In February, two payments were deducted from her Social Security check. I called and was told the deductions would stop; the system showed that further payments would be made with her credit card.

In March, her Social Security check was again debited, and three charges were also made to her credit card.

I called Humana, which said to call SSA. I called SSA , which said to call Medicare. I called Medicare, which said it could do nothing, since the plan provider (Humana) had to notify it to stop deductions. After numerous phone calls, a supervisor finally contacted me and said she would take care of the problem "on an emergency basis" and make sure my mother received her refund. I never heard from her again.

The SSA deductions continued each month until December, despite my calling every time and being assured they would stop.

In August, my mother's credit card was charged two deductions; in early September it was charged 2 cents and later, two deductions were credited back.

In November, I canceled automatic deductions and asked that my mother be sent a payment book. A representative had offered this advice, and it certainly made sense.

In December, I signed her up for the Standard Plan for 2007 because of changes in her medication that would increase her expenditures. I asked that she receive a payment book and confirmed there would be no automatic deductions from her Social Security check. Later that month, I got the payment book for 2007, but the payment amount was wrong. Then I got a payment book for December, even though the deduction had already been made.

In January, I got a statement saying her 2007 deductions would begin, even though I never signed her up for it. Again the amount was wrong. I assume it is the amount for the enhanced plan and not the standard plan I had signed her up for.

I simply cannot imagine how elderly people without someone to help them could possibly navigate this system.

Frances Langerfeld

A: What a nightmare! Rarely do I include so much detail of a reader's complaint, but your attempts to straighten out the billing issues for your mother were truly stunning.

"There is no question that my mother saved hundreds of dollars using this plan," you said. "Her drug costs in 2005, with the discount drug program implemented that year were approximately $1,100. In 2006 . . . her drug costs for the entire year were $75." You also commended the ease and efficiency of the mail order prescription program. These are good points, considering the increased cost of prescription medication overall.

I sent your complaint to the St. Petersburg SSA office and received a call that it had been forwarded to Tampa, where your mother lives. I mention this because past complaints about Medicare deductions have rarely elicited a response of any kind to the newspaper. At least it was being reviewed this time.

"I don't know what happened or how," you wrote in an e-mail to Action, "but suddenly Social Security has refunded my mother's money and sent her a notice that her check would now have no further deductions for Humana."

Action solves problems and gets answers for you. If you have a question, or your own attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or call your Action number, (727) 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request.