Ellsworth told the crowd that his congressional office fields more questions about Medicare prescriptions drug plans than any other topic.
With more than 45 plans to choose from, Ellsworth fears that some Hoosiers may be getting lost in the bureaucratic shuffle.
"It's confusing to me," said Ellsworth. "People are scared and they are not signing up."
Thursday's event was designed to eliminate some of that confusion during this years Medicare open enrollment period, from Nov. 15 to Dec. 31.
Ellsworth, accompanied by representatives from the Social Security Administration, National Government Services, the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (S.H.I.P.), the state Quality Improvement Organization, and the Veterans Administration provided advice for evaluating options, resources for future assistance and fielded questions from the audience.
Mike Boyce, of National Government Services, said that confusion over Medicare Part D is a serious problem in the 8th Congressional District. Of the nearly 140,000 Medicare eligible people in the district, only 7,000 have signed up for the benefit. Boyce added that at one percent per month, fines for not failing to sign on to a prescription drug plan can be steep for seniors.
National statistics indicate that even when people do sign up for Part D, they may not be picking the best plan to meet their needs, Boyce said.
"Eighty-three percent of all people who signed up, picked a plan based on name recognition," Boyce said. "That's not good."
He encouraged residents to evaluate every Medicare plan and every supplement package by cost, coverage and convenience. People should pick plans based on their resources and what they consume.
Ellsworth pledged to work toward simplifying the Medicare program in Washington, but acknowledged that the gears of national legislation grind slowly in the nation's capitol.
"People have good intentions, but party politics gets in the way and that has to cease," Ellsworth said, admitting that adjusting to slow pace of federal legislation has been difficult for him.
The freshman congressman said he would work hard to make changes to the Medicare system, beyond just simplifying options. He told the crowd he wanted to eliminate fines for failing to sign on to Part D and pledged to work toward closing the notorious "doughnut hole," which ends federal coverage for drug expenses once an annual spending limit is reached. Coverage only resumes after a person has spent hundreds or even thousands of dollars out of pocket.
Government representatives at the meeting recommended that area residents contact Putnam County's local S.H.I.P representative, Sue Murray at the Putnam County Hospital, or call 1-800-452-4800 to get one-on-one assistance picking a plan.
For additional information and assistance, they recommended calling 1-800-Medicare (1-800-633-4227), a 24-hour help line. To avoid a maze of automated prompts, just say the word "agent" to speak to a live person. The average wait time is 5-7 minutes. For information online, visit www.medicare.gov.