A group of some of the nation's largest health care groups announced an effort Tuesday to raise the profile of next year's Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Approximately 40 groups representing seniors, health insurers, doctors, and others say that they are joining forces to encourage beneficiaries to learn about Medicare's Part D benefit. It is scheduled to enroll members in the fall and offer benefits starting January 2006.

The partnership, which will launch a national TV ad tomorrow, is intended to help stave off confusion over Part D's complex set of benefits and rules.

Read WebMD's "Study Warns of High Rx Costs in Medicare"

Different Beneficiaries, Different Benefits

Several different classes within Medicare's 40 million beneficiaries will get different benefits under Part D rules. Low-income beneficiaries are entitled to prescription drugs without paying the monthly premiums and deductibles that middle- and high-income beneficiaries will pay.

Those who already have coverage through a current or former employer and those who use the Medicare Advantage managed care program will face different rules.

Groups pledged Tuesday to use local networks of seniors' and community groups, as well as national campaigns, to educate seniors on their choices.

"This is something that the government can really not do by itself," said John Breaux, a former Democratic U.S. senator who is now heading the Medicare Rx Educational Network. Breaux is currently a lobbyist at the Washington firm Patton Boggs.

President Bush is scheduled to travel to Atlanta on Friday as part of an ongoing White House promotional effort around Medicare.

Medicare chief Mark McClellan, MD, told reporters that the agency would continue efforts to reach seniors and steer them toward information on choosing a drug.

"It's voluntary coverage and most people need to make a decision about it in order to take advantage of it," he said.

Cheryl Matheis, AARP's director of health strategy, said that though the benefits are complex, her group's message was simple. "You as a beneficiary with drug coverage have a decision to make."

"It's going to take a nation for education on this," she said.

Read WebMD's "Medicare Heading for Financial Crisis"

By Todd Zwillich, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCES: John Breaux, Patton Boggs. Mark McClellan, MD, administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Cheryl Matheis, director, health strategy, AARP.