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Assess Your Health This Holiday Season

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Medicare open enrollment has arrived and so has the holiday season! For those of us who are 65 and older, this means it’s time to examine our current coverage and determine if it still meets our individual needs.

Each year, Medicare users are given the opportunity to review and alter their Medicare Part D plan from October 15th to December 7th. Today, we’re sharing a few tips to make the process of assessing your coverage much easier. Feel free to use these tips over the Thanksgiving holiday period to discuss Medicare options with your family and loved ones. After all, Thanksgiving is National Family History Day.

Check Your Mail

You should have received an “annual notice of change” or “evidence of benefits” letter from your insurer. This letter is important to review, because it highlights the cost and benefit changes in store for 2018.

Know Your Medications

The medications you need may vary each year, so it’s essential to have a detailed list of all your current medications before you assess your Part D coverage. Be sure to check to make sure your current medications are covered, as well as any new medications you might now be prescribed.

Review All Costs

Be sure to calculate other costs associated with health care coverage besides monthly premiums, like out-of-pocket cost sharing such as copays or coinsurance. Study these factors to determine if they fit within your budget.

Check Approved Pharmacies

Make sure your preferred pharmacy is included in your Part D coverage by checking if your pharmacy is preferred under your plan’s network. This can help lower out-of-pocket costs.

Assess Plan Ratings

Did you know Part D plans are assessed by a five-star rating system? This system shows how they are performing on specific features, such as customer service and patient safety. Don’t forget to check how your plan compares to others.

Look for Other Options

After you assess your plan, examine other options to see if there is a better fit for your individual needs. Use this Medicare Plan Finder to explore your options and compare plans here. Additionally, you can always call 1-800-Medicare 24/7, visit www.medicare.gov or call your Area Agency on Aging, which offers appointments with a Medicare information expert (SHIIP). If you need help finding contact information on your Area Agency, or if you need information on any service programs or resources, feel free to call the national Eldercare Information number at 800-677-1116.



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It’s Time to Enroll in Medicare

If you’re an individual eligible for Medicare, this is a very important time of year. Open enrollment for Medicare starts on October 15 and continues through December 7. Open enrollment is the time when individuals turning 65 can enroll in Medicare coverage for the first time. It’s also the one time each year in which existing beneficiaries can shop for new coverage and change plans.

It’s important that you take advantage of this annual opportunity to look at your coverage and make sure it’s meeting your current needs. Your health, treatments and prescription medications can change a lot in a year, so reviewing your costs and coverage can help you determine if you want to stay with your current plan or choose a new plan from multiple available options.

This year, assessing your plan needs is more important than ever since the average basic premium for Part D prescription drug coverage is expected to decrease for 2018!

We’re committed to ensuring you have the resources you need to make the best choices for you or a family member. Basic information and videos on Medicare and Part D are available on our website. We also have a handy enrollment fact sheet in English and in Spanish. Additionally, you can find out if you are eligible for payment assistance through the Extra Help program and how to enroll (Spanish).

Seniors Speak Out also has additional resources for seniors and will provide information throughout open enrollment on signing up for coverage. Be sure to check back often to stay in the know.

Happy open enrollment!!

MedicareToday_placemat



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The Different Parts of Medicare

Are you turning 65 this year? If you were born in 1952, this is an important year for you. Why? Because at age 65, you can now enroll in Medicare!

As I’m sure you already know, Medicare is the federal health insurance program for people age 65 and older. Medicare provides plenty of benefits, so you should be sure to enroll as soon as you are eligible. Don’t forget open enrollment is just around the corner and begins on October 15.

Before then, you might want to learn more about Medicare and what it can offer. For starters, there are four different parts of Medicare: Parts A, B, C and D. Check out our new infographic for information on these health care coverage options!

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Stand Alone or Take Advantage?

A very important question you should ask regarding Medicare prescription drug coverage is what type of plan you want.  There are two very different choices.

The first is to enroll in Medicare Part D. This is a stand-alone plan that covers just your medications. You use this coverage in conjunction with the medical coverage you receive with Medicare Parts A and B (hospitalization, provider visits, testing, etc.).

The other option is to opt for a Medicare Advantage Plan that provides all of the health care services under Part A and B as well as coverage for your medicines in one plan. Examples of Medicare Advantage Plans include Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO), Preferred Provider Organizations (PPO), Medicare Medical Savings Account Plans, and Special Needs Plans.

Both types of plans have advantages, the right choice for you depends on many factors including where you live and your preferences regarding provider choice. Also, be sure to examine more than just the bottom line on premium costs when evaluating any program.

Some beneficiaries choose to enroll in traditional Medicare health coverage as wells as a stand-alone drug plan (Part D) because it gives them freedom to choose providers without having to coordinate within a network or get referrals. The Part D plans cover your medicines but do not include extra services or provide care. (Note: Some beneficiaries who have regular Medicare and Part D plans also purchase Medicare Supplemental Insurance to assist in copayments and deductibles for medical services.) Part D plans are available throughout the United States, so you have this option no matter where you live.

On the other hand, Medicare Advantage Plans provide health coverage through specific provider networks and facilities. Once you enroll, you are required to seek care within your network. In some cases, these plans also offer additional services not available to beneficiaries who aren’t in their program. Medicare Advantage Plans contract with Medicare to provide Medicare Parts A and B services as well as coverage for your medicines. If you choose to enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan you do not need to purchase Medicare Supplemental Insurance. These plans are not available everywhere, so it’s important to check what is available in the region or area in which you live. You can check online using the plan finder at www.medicare.gov or use our tools to find a local office to assist you in your search.

Here are a few questions to consider when determining what is right for you:

  • Does my current doctor or other care provider participate in the Medicare Advantage Plan?
  • If not, am I willing to change doctors/providers?
  • Are the care providers and other facilities in Medicare Advantage Plans convenient to me?
  • Are my medicines covered?

One last thing: Medicare provides a rating of 1 to 5 stars for Medicare prescription stand-alone plans and Medicare Advantage Plans. These ratings are based on both Medicare quality standards and beneficiary experience. For a full explanation of the star rating system, go to www.medicare.gov and don’t forget to look for and consider the rating as you select a plan.

Remember that a Medicare is open 24/7 at 1-800-633-4227.



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Shopping for Plans In-Person or Via the Phone

Earlier this week on the blog, we laid out the simple steps you can take to compare plans and shop for coverage using the online tools, such as the Plan Finder, available at www.medicare.gov. Of course, there are people of all ages who are not comfortable putting all their information into a computer – or at least trying to do it without help. Fortunately, Medicare understands this. If you would rather have an in-person discussion or talk to a specialist on the phone, those resources are available as well.

The initial steps to shopping for coverage are the same whether with a representative or online. Begin by making a list of the medicines you take and the dosage. Next, decide whether you want to get most of your medicines, especially the ones you take regularly, by mail or at a local pharmacy. You’ll also need your Medicare card available which will have key information like your Medicare number and the date you became enrolled in Medicare.

If you don’t use a computer or have one available, you can call your local Area Agency on Aging and make an appointment to meet with the SHIIP Counselor who can help you compare available plans. You can find information on local agencies using our online mapping tool. When you go, remember to bring your medication information and your Medicare card with you when you go.

Additionally, you can speak to a Medicare counselor over the phone any day of the week by calling 1-800-MEDICARE or 1-800-633-4227. A live person will walk you through any questions or concerns you have along the way. They are available 7 days a week excluding federal holidays.

How long will this process take? Probably about an hour or so.  Not long, but enough time to maybe save you money or at least confirm that you are getting the best coverage you can for the medicines you take.

Finally, you can always get information directly from the plan you are interested in. To do this, go to the Plan Finder on the Medicare website, follow the directions, and you will get a list of plans in your area. Click on the name of the plan in order to obtain the contact information. You can also call a local SHIIP Counselor to get plan contact information.

Have you gone through the paper enrollment process? Any guidance you would share with fellow seniors? We’d love for you to sound off in the comment section or through our Facebook page to let us know about your personal experience.



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Online Tools to Shop for Part D Coverage

It is interesting to hear younger people talk about how hard it is to choose health insurance plans. They’re right. Evaluating all the intricacies of multiple plans can at times be a significant challenge. That’s why Medicare beneficiaries are incredibly fortunate. We have easy-to-use tools and real people to help us compare choices and select the Part D plan that’s right for us.

A quick visit to the Medicare Plan Finder website is all you need to get started using the tools that are available to compare plans. So, if you are thinking about reviewing your Medicare Part D plan options now that it is open season – and you really should be thinking about it – here are some easy steps to follow.

Begin by making a list of the medicines you take and the dosage. Next, decide whether you want to get most of your medicines, especially the ones you take regularly, by mail or at a local pharmacy. With that information, a laptop or tablet computer, a phone, and your Medicare card, you are ready to go.

Once on the Medicare Plan Finder website, you will be asked if you want to look broadly at all of the plans available in your area or do a more personalized search which requires providing your name, Zip Code, Medicare Number, date of birth, and the year your Medicare coverage became effective. All of that information can be found on your Medicare card. If you or someone searching for you has never put in your information before, you should use the General Search option.

Continuing with the General Search, you next have to provide some information about yourself and your income and Medicare status as well as the list medicines you take and their dosage. All of this is necessary to help narrow down the list to plans that are right for you.

If you have searched for coverage before, it’s even easier. Simply choose the Personalized Search option and it will automatically reflect the information you provided the last time you compared plans. It will also give you the chance to update the information with any changes or additions.

From that point on, just follow the directions on the screen until you have a number of choices that you are comfortable working with, or in some cases, a single choice that best meets your needs. You can always go back and change the search data to get more or fewer choices.

But the best news is that if you need help or have questions, — day or night, weekday or weekends — you can call 1-800-MEDICARE or 1-800-633-4227 and speak to a live person. They’re available anytime except federal holidays.

Watch the blog for more information this week about the resources available to you if you’d rather not search for a plan online. In the meantime, let me know what your experience has been like with the online tools – both good and bad.



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Helping Seniors Speak Out on Medicare Part D

Hello!  My name is Nona Bear and for the last 20+ years I have read about, talked about, studied, and listened to information and ideas about Medicare. One year ago, my “book learning” got upgraded to “hands on” experience, as I became a Medicare beneficiary myself.

My goal in writing this blog is to share my thoughts as both a person on Medicare, as well as, someone who works in health care advocacy. I hope that many of you will reciprocate by sharing your observations, ideas, recommendations and even critiques about how Medicare works for you.

As I write this, I have just come back from getting my prescriptions refilled at the pharmacy. I have great confidence in the pharmacists who are on staff and want to be able to keep getting my medicines from there. When I first chose a Medicare Part D plan, I took the time to review each plan’s list of participating pharmacies so that I could shop where I preferred. That choice was one of several important factors I considered when I selected a plan.

Now, with Medicare Open Enrollment around the corner, I will continue to take full advantage of the options that Medicare Part D provides.  In addition to keeping the pharmacy I want, I will be reviewing plans — including the one I have now — to be sure I get the best deal in terms of premium cost and, most importantly, coverage for the medicines I take. Having a choice means I have power as a consumer and as a patient, which is something I value and want to keep.

How will you take advantage of the options provided by Open Enrollment when it begins on October 15, 2014?  What factors are most important to you?  Where do you get the information you need to make your decision?  Where do you go for help in making your choice?

Please share your experiences and best advice on making the most of Open Enrollment or other things about Medicare that are on your mind. Be sure to check back with us regularly to read your thoughts and hear what other Medicare beneficiaries from around the country are saying.

I hope to hear from you soon!!