NU Online News Service, March 24, 2005, 4:51 p.m. EST

More insurers say they want to provide prescription drug benefits for older Americans.[@@]

WellPoint Inc., Indianapolis, and Universal American Financial Corp., Rye Brook, N.Y., are 2 companies that say they have applied for permission from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to be players in the new Medicare Part D drug benefit program.

WellPoint wants to sell drug benefits throughout the United States. The company is looking at ways to serve low-income individuals, other individuals, purchasers of Medicare managed care coverage and employers that sponsor retiree prescription plans, WellPoint says.

Universal American, a company with a strong Medicare supplement insurance operation, is teaming up with PharmaCare Management Services Inc., a pharmacy benefit manager owned by CVS Corp., Woonsocket, R.I., a giant drug store chain.

Universal American and PharmaCare have filed for permission to offer Part D drug plans in at least 21 regions in 29 states, Universal American says.

If Medicare officials accept the application, CVS would market the Universal American/CVS program through the 5,400 CVS drug stores, Universal American says.

The deadline for initial Part D participation applications was Wednesday. Applicants that are found to be qualified to participate in the Part D program must submit plan bids by June 6, and Medicare officials hope to award contracts by early September, Universal American says.