The new year brings new headaches for pharmacists dealing with Medicare`s prescription drug benefit. The program, Part D, officially began January 1st and plenty of eager seniors lined up outside area drug stores ready for those prescriptions. But it wasn`t such a smooth transition. Carl Collier, Pharmacist Collier Drug: "We have had no Medicare Part D claims that have been able to be processed today." Collier says a computer database gliche is to blame making the first day a complete mess. Collier: "In the pharmacy (industry), we were not advocates of this program at all. Part D relies on a intricate computer network that links Medicare with pharmacies and insurers. But with the kick off falling on a holiday, state and federal offices remain closed. Collier is doing what he can. Collier: "We`re making sure none of our patients are going without their medicine." Over 100,000 seniors are eligible for the benefit in Northwest Arkansas. But 40 different plans offered by 15 companies frighten those unaccustomed to change. Helen McElree, Senior: "It`s extremely confusing and difficult to work out." Bob McAdam, Senior: "I still am not clear on it at all." Pharmacies like Collier`s had difficulty finding patients eligibility on day one. And those "dual eligibles" on Medicare and Medicaid at some pharmacies couldn`t submit claims either, due to computer issues. Pharmacists say it will take some time to work all the bugs out of the system. Collier: "For the next two months at least, these problems will be very prevalent in the industry." The program is expected to give pharmacies more business, by making medication more affordable for those with lower incomes. But pharmacists say the reimbursements from the private insurers will now be less, removing the chance of any gains.
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