Bush Urges Seniors to Sign Up for Medicare

President Bush, saying he recognized that the Medicare prescription drug plan might seem perplexing to some, urged seniors Tuesday to sign up for the program, which begins Jan. 1. "It's a good deal," he said.

During a brief visit to Greenspring Village Retirement Community, just outside Washington, Bush emphasized that the plan is optional and that there are people who can help explain the choices offered by the program. Under the program, the federal government subsidizes coverage, but to a much greater extent for the poor.

Some seniors have found the enrollment process confusing, and signup has been slow for the low-income subsidy.

"For some seniors, this is a daunting task," Bush said. "When you give people choice and options ... it can be a situation where people say, `I don't really — this is something I may not want to do."'

The Department of Health and Human Services expects about 28 to 30 million beneficiaries to sign up during the enrollment period, which continues through May 15.

Seniors can get more information about the program by calling 1-800-Medicare, or going to www.Medicare.gov.

Frank Sinatra was crooning over a sound system as Bush visited with residents and experts who were there to answer questions about the program. Greenspring, home to more than 2,000 moderate-income residents, is managed by Erickson Retirement Communities based in Catonsville, Md.

John Erickson, chairman of the company, said the prescription drug benefit presents a tough decision for some retirees.

"I'd say about 40 percent are depending upon their children for some additional assistance in helping understanding the program," he said.

In most states, beneficiaries will be able to select from at least 40 plans. Some plans offer prescription drug coverage only. Others offer managed care that covers the full range of Medicare services, such as visits to a doctor's office. While some find the vast number of plans confusing, federal officials say the competition forces insurers to lower costs and provide more generous benefits for people 65 and older and the disabled.