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MCS workers distribute personal protection equipment to help fight the coronavirus pandemic. >Inter News Service

MCS Classicare, a health plan administered by MCS Advantage, announced that its Te Paga card, surpassed one million transactions in October, almost one year after the program was rolled out.

Roberto Pando, the president of MCS Advantage, told THE WEEKLY JOURNAL that its more than 125,000 members have used the Te Paga card since Jan. 2020, and to date, has had an economic impact on the island of more than $70 million.

As part of Te Paga, members with this benefit can receive up to $500 per quarter to spend on various items that have been approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

These include the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables, over-the-counter medication, and even water and electricity bills.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, disposable masks and alcohol-based hand sanitizer were added to the list of approved items.

At the same time, members with this benefit can also use the money to buy smartphones, which has proved to be an important communication and medical tool during the coronavirus pandemic.

“This has become very important because of the pandemic, as [smartphones] allow beneficiaries to not only talk to doctors and pharmacists, but also to their families,” said Dr. Inés Hernández, MCS chief medical officer.

She explained that the program focuses on addressing various socioeconomic determinants of health. For example, there is no doubt that eating fresh fruits and vegetables improves one’s health. But so does having access to a smartphone, especially in the “new normal.” In fact, while utilization has gone done across the board, the use of telemedicine has increased a lot, Hernández indicated. The system has shown over 150,000 telemedicine “doctor’s visits” over the phone since the pandemic began.

As part of the Te Paga program, MCS has established an alliance with Banco Popular and Claro, as well as a network of more than 1,000 supermarkets and 600 community pharmacies that accept the ATM-like card.

“We are very pleased to be the pioneers of this innovative initiative that favors the health of thousands of older adults and Medicare beneficiaries in Puerto Rico, helping them to shop for healthy food and pay for essential services. Thanks to this million-dollar effort in favor of their health, our members have more to spare in their pockets and do not have to stop buying their medicine or healthy food to pay for basic services such as water, electricity, telephone, gas and Internet,” Pando said.

The news came in the midst of the Medicare annual enrollment period, so thousands of beneficiaries in Puerto Rico are currently comparing Medicare and prescription drug plans.

According to Medicare’s website, beneficiaries should consider these factors when comparing plans:

1. Total cost for care. It’s important to think about your total out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles, co-payments, coinsurance, maximums and drug costs.

2. Provider choice. Some plan types have a network of providers you’ll have to use if you want to pay less.

3. Benefits. Many Medicare Advantage Plans include prescription drug, vision, hearing and dental coverage. Maybe you travel a lot, or spend part of the year in a different state. If you do, see if your plan will cover you when you travel.

4. “Overall Star Rating.” The Medicare Plan Finder features a star rating system for Medicare health and drug plans. The “Overall Star Rating” gives an overall rating of the plan’s quality and performance for the types of services each plan offers.

Asst. Editor/Reporter for The Weekly Journal. She is a journalist with more than 20 years of experience. Rosario received both of her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in International Politics from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

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