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The ABC(D)s of Medicare

cmsWhether you’ve just become eligible for Medicare or have been enrolled for years, sometimes keeping the different parts of the program straight and navigating all of your options can be a confusing task. When enrolling or changing your plan, it’s important to take the time to consider your health care needs and compare options to ensure you’re getting the best possible coverage at the best price.

Medicare Parts A, B, C and D each represent different health coverage options. To help you understand what each plan covers and figure out what may work best for you, we’ve put together a summary of each below.

The ABCDs of Medicare

Medicare Part A: Part A (hospital insurance) is federally administered coverage for a variety of patient care oriented health services. Part A is what covers your hospital care, nursing facilities, some home health services and hospice care. You’ll automatically be enrolled in Medicare Part A when you turn 65, and unlike other elements of the program, you cannot opt out.

Medicare Part B: Part B (medical insurance) is also federally administered and offers sen
iors two types of medical services: necessary and preventative. Necessary medical services include doctor visits and supplies that are required to treat or diagnose medical conditions such wheelchairs, inhalers or x-rays. Health care services to prevent illness, such as vaccinations, are also covered through Part B. Unlike Part A, you can opt out of Medicare Part B but you should consider it carefully because if you choose to sign up for Part B coverage at a later date, you’ll have to pay a penalty.

Medicare Part C: More commonly known as Medicare Advantage, these are private health plans that provide combined coverage for both Part A and B benefits. These plans include Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs) or Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs). They can also cover prescription drugs and additional services like eye and dental benefits.

Medicare Part D: Part D plans cover outpatient prescription drugs and are administered by private insurance plans. Each state has a wide variety of Part D plans to choose from including different co-payments, premiums and formularies.  No matter where you live in the United States you can choose a plan that works best for you.

Open enrollment for Medicare runs from October 15 to December 7. During this time period, be sure to research and compare plans to find the best coverage for your individual needs at a price that won’t break the bank. To learn more about the different components of the Medicare program, visit Medicare.gov.



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Seniors Speak Out Has Resources to Help During Open Enrollment

Open enrollment for Medicare is underway until December 7th and with it comes the opportunity to enroll in benefits for the first time, or review your existing coverage to ensure its meeting your current needs. Medicare plans can change from year to year, and sometimes these changes can hit your wallet December 2015and subsequently your health. Open enrollment is the perfect time to do some additional research and make sure you’re getting the right coverage at the best price.

Comparing plans and navigating the process of enrolling in a new plan can seem a bit daunting at first, but it’s imperative to take the time to review them, since selecting the wrong plan might make the medications you require unaffordable or inaccessible. To help, we have updated our resources to give you specifics on plans in each state and tips to make the process as simple and efficient as possible.

If you’re enrolling in Part D for the first time, use these tips to identify the best plan for you. After you’ve familiarized yourself with the general program, Seniors Speak Out also offers state specific resources and information on our “Part D State by State” map. Each state will link you to the number of plans available, the number of beneficiaries enrolled, lowest available monthly premiums, and more. This information will allow you to compare your Part D plan to the others offered in your state and help you make an informed choice.

If you have any additional questions regarding open enrollment, contact your local Area Agency on Aging and schedule a time to talk to someone who’s been trained to help you make the most of your Medicare. Seniors Speak Out offers a map with each state’s contact information here.

Make sure to take advantage of the many benefits offered by Medicare during this open enrollment period so you can stay healthy and active for years to come.



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Giving Thanks for Good Health

 

Each year, the holiday season offers us time to reconnect with family, slow down and give thanks for all of the things we are grateful for in our lives. One thing I never take for granted as I get older is my health, and I know having access to affordable prescription drug coverage that keeps me healthy is key. That’s why this season I’m particularly grateful for my good health.

The comprehensive and affordable drug coverage provided by Medicare Part D is one way I am able to stay healthy, and that is something we can all be thankful for. Here are three things for you and your family to consider this Thanksgiving when it comes to your Part D plan.

  • Any time beginning three months before the month of your 65th birthday, you can apply for Part D prescription drug benefits without any penalty.
  • From now until December 7, you are able to join or renew your Medicare plan. If you’re looking for help in comparing options, Medicare.gov gives you the option to complete a general or personalized plan search.
  • For Veterans, Medicare Part D can be used as a supplement to your Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits. Whether it be for medication pick up or filling a prescription from a provider outside of the VA system, Part D can make up for the areas where other benefits may lack.

With all of the hassles the year has brought, don’t forget to give thanks for the things that are here to make life easier. Visit Medicare.gov for additional tips, advice and resources.



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Shopping for Medicare Part D

I recently saw a news feature about the growing number of people who complete their holiday shopping by Halloween. Wow! One shopper explained that shopping early gave her time to enjoy the holiday season with her family and avoid the frustration and exhaustion that comes with last minute shopping.

As impressive as this story is, shopping season can have an even bigger impact for those of us on Medicare — big savings on our medicines!

Every year we have the opportunity to keep or change the Part D plan that provides coverage for prescription drugs. Honestly, this may be the most important purchase of the year and far too few of us take time to shop around.

Does it matter?  ABSOLUTELY!  Here’s why:  Each year plans are allowed to make changes in the coverage they will offer for the next year. Additionally, you may have had changes or additions to the medicines you take. Why not take a few minutes to review the plan you have now and compare it to what else is available in your area?

Some key questions to ask: Are all your medicines still covered by your current plan?  What are your total costs, both premiums and cost-sharing?  Can another plan offer you a better deal? You may find that your current plan is still working well for you, or you may discover that you can save real money by making a change. Either way, checking your coverage is the best way to make sure you are getting the most from your Medicare Part D plan.

Medicare open enrollment is happening now and continues through December 7.  To compare Part D plans offered in your state, you can use the Medicare Plan Finder. If you have any questions, you can always visit your local Area Agency on Aging or call Medicare all day, any day (except federal holidays) at 1-800-633-4227.

Don’t miss out on this important shopping season!



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Medicare News: 2016 Part D and Medicare Advantage Premiums Remain Stable

In case you were too busy barbecuing and chasing grandkids this summer to monitor the latest on Medicare (and who could blame you?), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently made announcements about Medicare premiums for the Part D prescription drug program and Medicare Advantage (if you choose that option).

Image courtesy of CMS.gov

CMS projects average monthly premiums for Medicare Part D will remain stable in 2016 at around $32.50 a month. They also project Medicare Advantage premiums will remain stable around $32.60 per month in 2016. CMS credits a transparent and competitive marketplace for helping to keep premiums low.

What does that mean for you? You can breathe easy knowing that your monthly premium costs to cover medications or a Medicare Advantage plan may be about the same as it was last year, and you will have a variety of plans to choose from with different coverage options and premium costs to fit your needs.  Another reason to be thankful for a competitive structure within Medicare.

As you already know, fall is an important time for seniors to think about their health. During open enrollment, we will be providing all the information you need to make critical decisions about your needs and coverage. Premiums are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cost factors you need to consider when choosing a plan, but don’t worry – we’re here to help.

Be sure to check back here often for great tools and resources, and engage with us on Facebook and Twitter to ask questions and suggest topics for us to cover.



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Preparing for Open Enrollment

When was the last time you passed up an opportunity to save money on appliances or groceries?  If you’re anything like me, you’re always shopping around for the best deals and looking for ways to save.  When it comes to your Medicare coverage, you should be doing the same.

Open enrollment for Medicare begins on October 15th. One of the things you can do during Open Enrollment is choose your Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan. Between October 15 and December 7 you’ll be able to update, change, or switch your Part D plan to make sure it best fits your medical needs.  Each year your health plan can affect the costs associated with your treatments, so it’s critical to take the time to review your benefits. 

To help make the process easier, I’ve listed out a few things you should consider during this year’s open enrollment.

  • Preferred Pharmacies: Is your pharmacy still listed as preferred in your Part D plan? If not, your costs could increase.
  • Medications: If you’ve been prescribed new medications, check that they are covered. Part D plans also change their formulary lists each year, so you should check your existing prescriptions as well.
  • Co-payments and Co-insurance: These amounts vary, so take time to comparison shop between plans and make an informed decision based on the medications you need.

Medicare also has resources available to help – be sure to check out the Medicare Plan Finder. Write down a list of the medicines you’re taking and log-on to find plans that work for you.

Open Enrollment is a great opportunity to review your plan, update it if necessary and save money each year. Take advantage of the chance to save your money and improve your health!

For more information visit Medicare’s website, make an appointment at your local SHIP office, or visit your local Area Agency on Aging. You can also call Medicare all day, any day (except federal holidays) at 1-800-633-4227.

Additionally, make sure to keep checking Seniors Speak Out, Facebook, and Twitter for helpful advice and resources.



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Happy Birthday 1950!

If you were born in the year 1950, you’re in good company –so were Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy and the rest of the Peanuts gang. So were actors Bill Murray and Martin Short. Sharing a birthday with these icons isn’t the only reason to celebrate, if you turn 65 this year you are also eligible to enroll in Medicare!

(image courtesy of Wikipedia)

As most of us know, Medicare is the federal health insurance program for people over the age of 65 that has is important for allowing older Americans to live healthier lives. There are many benefits to having Medicare, so you should enroll as soon as you become eligible.

Before your birthday, it’s a good idea to set aside some time to think about the different coverage options that might work for you. Talk to your doctor about your long-term health needs, consider the prescription drugs you take regularly and if those will be changing soon, ask questions about what your employer or former employer offer and start reviewing the plans that are available in your area.

Your friends who have gone through the process can be great resources, but remember, everyone has different health needs, so take the time to explore your options. If you want some professional guidance, you can set up an appointment with your local State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). Additionally, your local Area Agency on Aging office can answer any questions you have.

The first step is to determine if you are eligible for Medicare. Medicare.gov offers a simple and easy questionnaire to get you started. If you are eligible, you can go a step further and calculate your premium in a few easy steps. This will help you to plan out when you should apply for Medicare and how much it will cost.

For those over the age of 65 that are enrolled in Social Security, you will automatically receive enrollment materials from Medicare 3 months before your birthday and your coverage will go into effect on the first day of the month you were born. But even though some things happen automatically, there are a lot of choices to be made! Be sure to do your research.

Learn more about the various coverage options here to see what works for you.

For more information on Medicare, check out our resources page. Happy Birthday 1950! Thanks for continuing to follow us at Seniors Speak Out.



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Seniors Speak Out Quiz: How much do you know about Medicare?

In honor of Medicare’s 50th Anniversary, test how much do you know about the Medicare program. No cheating!

 

Question 1

What is unique about the Medicare Toll Free Number?




Question 2

Who was president of the U.S. when Medicare was enacted?




Question 3

What is the name of the federal agency that runs Medicare?




Question 4

How many people in the U.S. are currently enrolled in Medicare?




Question 5

What famous figure in American history received the first Medicare card?




Question 6

At what age does someone become eligible for Medicare?






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Results Are In! Seniors Like Part D’s Coverage, Choice, & Value

9 in 10 seniors satisfied with Part D

9 in 10 seniors satisfied with Part D

Maintaining good health is of critical importance to everyone, but especially seniors. However, the steps you take to maintain your health is as unique and individualized as each and every one of us. That’s why having a choice of easy and affordable prescription drug coverage is critical to maintaining an active and happy life.  According to new survey results, seniors agree that our Medicare Part D coverage does just that.

This year’s Medicare Today Senior Satisfaction Survey found that nearly 9 in 10 seniors are satisfied with Part D. Not only that but 94 percent of seniors think that their plan is convenient to use, 91 percent report that they understand how to use their plans, and 90 percent agree that their plan works well. Further, 7 in 10 seniors also reported it is important to them to have a variety of Part D drug plans from which to choose.

It is no secret that Part D has changed the lives of millions of older and disabled Americans. Access to care gives us peace of mind, enables us to remain active, and helps us restore and maintain our health. And most importantly, Part D does so without breaking the bank. The survey found that 85 percent of seniors think their prescription coverage is a good value and over 80 percent of seniors polled in the survey also agreed that Part D related costs – copays, monthly premiums, and total out-of-pocket costs –  are both affordable and reasonable. That’s pretty groundbreaking for a government-run health program.

Interestingly though, despite the program’s evident success, some still want to make harmful changes to Part D. My question to that is: why change a program that consistently merits high satisfaction from seniors?

Changes could limit choices and raise costs, which would ultimately undermine the success of the program. Attempts to weaken or disrupt Part D’s competitive structure would not serve the best interests of seniors and disabled Americans, so if necessary, we must stand ready to defend our benefits by speaking out to our leaders and by voting in elections. Who better than seniors like us that benefit from Part D to vouch for its success?

If you’re like me, you’ve long known that Part D truly works and keeps seniors happy. If you needed a bit more convincing, it’s hard to argue with the opinions of nearly 9 in 10 seniors who are satisfied with the program. Be sure to join us on Facebook to let us know that you agree and share stories about the difference Part D has made in your life.



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White House Regional Conference on Aging: A Recap

In July, the White House hosted its 2015 Conference on Aging.  If you have been following the Seniors Speak Out blog, you are very aware of the event. In fact, I recently talked to Bob Blancato, a long-time advocate for seniors who has been involved in three of the previous White House Conferences on Aging (WHCOA), about this year’s conference.

Photo from whitehouseconferenceonaging.gov

Our discussion covered the history of the WHCOA and the important part it has played in developing policies for seniors in the past. You can check out part 1 of my interview with Bob here and part 2 here

In addition, after attending the conference, Bob wrote a recap of his experience in a column featured on Next Avenue. Bob summarized how the conference built off past successes but also highlighted what made it distinct. He touched on how, unlike in past conferences, the White House was much more involved. Also different from previous events was the format. This year, five regional forums (also summarized on our blog here) led up to the main conference, which featured a strong virtual component. While only 200 people attended in-person, over 600 people around the country registered to watch it live.

Bob discussed how the results of this year’s conference were significant:

“In the aggregate, they will both improve existing aging policy and programs and create new ways of improving the quality of life for people as they age. No fewer than 20 private-sector actions were announced at the conference. As they are implemented, they offer the real prospect to achieve positive change.”

President Obama’s policy remarks were also important to understanding future priorities of aging policy in the U.S. In his announcement, the President touched on policies related to retirement savings, food for the homebound, better access to resources, as well as justice and support for victims of elder abuse.

While Bob’s article emphasized the achievements of the 2015 conference, he concluded that the real marker of success will be the implementation of ideas and proposals laid forth at this year’s event:

“The prospect of real change emanating from this White House Conference on Aging is contingent, however, on full implementation of the proposals announced and other actions, such as reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, further implementation of the Affordable Care Act to strengthen Medicare, greater national attention to long-term care and ensuring that Social Security is strong now and in the future.”

You can learn more about the issues covered at this year’s conference by visiting the WHCOA website and watching some the videos covering conversations that took place here.

Thanks for following our coverage of this historic conference!