Medicare Deadline Passes

This was the scene yesterday at Washoe County's Senior Center in Reno: seniors scrambling to sign up for the Medicare Prescription Drug program, or face a one percent penalty. That penalty will be tacked onto seniors' prescription drug bills when they eventually enroll in the program come November.

Janet Cottrell helped coordinate the registration process. She says the calculations that make up the penalty are pretty easy. "One percent of the national premium average, which is approximately thirty dollars. One percent of that is thirty cents per month, for every month they do not have Medicare prescription drug coverage."

Cottrell says that one percent penalty of thirty cents will be compounded until the registration in November, making it a seven percent penalty. It will follow the senior throughout his or her lifetime and will increase depending upon the National Premium Average.

But an influential group of senators back in Washington has introduced a bill that would eliminate the deadline. On Capitol Hill, senators say it's wrong to penalize seniors at this time because the program is brand-new. Senator Charles Grassley, Finance Committee Chairman, says this is a time of transition.

"When you get into the future and individuals reach 65, one at a time they are going to consider this an individual decision they have to make. They aren't a group of 40 million seniors."

"I believe its time to cut the seniors a little bit of slack," said Democratic Senator Max Baucus from Montana. Republican Senator from Ohio Mike Dewine says there's a good chance this legislation will go through. "It's the right thing to do, it's the correct thing to do, and we will be doing it with this legislation which I would anticipate will move very quickly."