Medicare open enrollment season is here

Greg Dill
Special to the Village News

When people shop for a new car, they don’t just buy the first one they see, do they?

Probably not. They usually shop around, looking for the best deal they can get on a vehicle that fits their driving needs as well as their pocketbook.

Well, it’s the time of year for people to begin shopping around for a Medicare health or drug plan.

Medicare’s open enrollment period begins Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 7.

For people with Original Medicare, meaning that they can choose any doctor or hospital that accepts Medicare, they don’t need to think about open enrollment.

But if someone has a Medicare Advantage, Part C, health plan or a Medicare, Part D, prescription drug plan, they may want to see whether there’s another plan on the market that would be a better match with a lower price.

If a person is enrolled in a plan and they’re happy with it, they don’t need to do anything.

But Medicare health and drug plans – run by private insurers approved by Medicare – can change from year to year. A plan can raise its monthly premium or drop a medicine that is needed.

So it makes good sense to review coverage each year. Make sure the plan still is a good fit in terms of cost, coverage and quality.

If it isn’t, look for another plan.

During open enrollment, people can sign up for a Medicare Advantage health plan or Part D prescription drug plan or switch from one plan to another. The new coverage will take effect Jan. 1.

How do people shop for a new plan?

One way is the “Medicare & You” handbook, mailed each fall to every Medicare household in the country. This booklet lists all the Medicare health and drug plans available nearby, along with basic information such as premiums, deductibles and contacts.

There’s also the Medicare Plan Finder at www.Medicare.gov.

Look for a green button, labeled “Find health & drug plans.” Click on that button, type in a ZIP code, and see all of the Medicare Advantage and Part D plans available in that area. Patients can compare plans based on benefits, premiums, co-pays and estimated out-of-pocket costs. Contact information for the plans is listed.

For people without access to a computer, call (800) 633-4227. Customer service representatives can help answer questions about Medicare health and drug plans. The call is free.

Another terrific resource is the State Health Insurance and Counseling Program.

SHIP is an independent, nonprofit organization that provides free, personalized counseling to people with Medicare. Make an appointment to speak with a SHIP counselor in-person or over the phone.

SHIP counselors are well-trained volunteers who are often enrolled in Medicare as well, so they know the issues that others face. They can help people sort through different health and drug plans and help find one that’s right for them.

To contact the local SHIP office, go to www.shiptacenter.org.

For people who are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan as of Jan. 1 but who find that they are not satisfied with it, they have a 45-day window to disenroll. Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 14, people can drop their plan and return to Original Medicare. They can also sign up for a Part D drug plan during that time.

Having trouble paying for a Part D plan? People may be eligible for the Extra Help program, which helps cover premiums, deductibles and co-pays. Medicare beneficiaries typically save about $4,000 annually with Extra Help.

For more information on Extra Help, go to www.SSA.gov/prescriptionhelp.

Greg Dill is Medicare’s regional administrator for Arizona, California, Nevada, Hawaii and the Pacific territories.

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