Medicare enrollment underway through Dec. 7

Medicare enrollment underway through Dec. 7
Smart advice for Medicare open enrollment
This article is reprinted by permission from It is part of the Political Issues and Policies Special Report.

If you are enrolled in Medicare — the federal health insurance program for people 65 and older and some people with disabilities — you will soon have the opportunity to make changes to your health and prescription drug coverage. Medicares Fall Open Enrollment begins Monday, Oct. 15 and lasts through Friday, Dec. 7. It can be confusing, so heres what you need to know:

Video: Open Enrollment starts today.

During Fall Open Enrollment, you will be able to join a new Medicare Advantage plan (from a private company; instead of using Original Medicare) or a stand-alone prescription drug plan (a Medicare Part D plan). You can also switch between Original Medicare (with or without a Part D plan) and Medicare Advantage. Any changes you make during Fall Open Enrollment will take effect Jan. 1, 2019.

Before making any decisions, review your current Medicare coverage, even if you are satisfied with the coverage you have. The costs, benefits and restrictions of Medicare Advantage plans and stand-alone Part D drug plans can change from year to year; so can your health care needs.

Start by reading the 2019 Medicare & You handbook, which is available online. This booklet contains information about Medicare costs and benefits in the coming year.

If you have a Medicare Advantage plan or a Part D plan, review the Annual Notice of Change and/or an Evidence of Coverage. You should have received the Notice of Change in the mail, or will soon. Medicare Advantage and Part D plans used to be required to mail beneficiaries Evidence of Coverage documents, but that ended in 2018; now, they just need to publish them on their websites by Oct. 15 and mail them to beneficiaries who request paper copies. These notices contain information about changes to your plans costs, benefits and rules in the coming year. Youll want to see if your current coverage will still meet your needs in 2019.

Before joining a Medicare Advantage plan, know which questions to ask, such as whether the plan will continue to cover the drugs you take. My organization, Medicare Rights Center, has a helpful online checklist to show you important questions youll want answered.

Even if you are satisfied with your Medicare coverage, look at other Medicare options in your area that may better suit your needs in the coming year. For example, check to see if there is another plan that will offer similar health and/or drug coverage at a more affordable price and possibly fewer restrictions.

Take advantage of tools and resources that can help you find the best plans. For instance, the Medicare Plan Finder tool from the Medicare website (or call 1-800-MEDICARE to get it) lets you compare Medicare Advantage and Part D plans. The Plan Finder compares plans based on the drugs you need, the pharmacy you visit and your drug costs. It also provides estimates of how much your costs will be with a given plan in the coming year.

Your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) can provide free, accurate and unbiased counseling about choosing Medicare coverage. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the choices, you can find your SHIP by calling 877-839-2675 or visiting the SHIP website.

If you research a plan online and intend to choose it, call the plan to confirm what you have learned. Make sure the plan will include your doctors and hospitals in its network in 2019. Confirm, too, that the plan covers all your drugs and that your pharmacies are in the preferred network.

When speaking with a plan or Medicare representative, write down everything about your conversation, including the date, who you spoke to and any outcomes or next steps. This information may help protect you in case you receive misinformation.

To enroll in a new plan, call 1-800-MEDICARE. Enrolling in a new plan directly through Medicare is the best way to protect yourself if you run into enrollment problems.

If you become dissatisfied with a Medicare Advantage Plan youve chosen, starting in 2019 you will be allowed to change it during the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period. That period will run from Jan. 1 through March 31, with changes taking effect on the first of the month following the month you make a change. During this time, you can switch from one Medicare Advantage Plan to another or switch from a Medicare Advantage Plan to Original Medicare with or without a Part D plan. If you have Original Medicare, you will not be able to change your coverage.

Joe Baker is president of the Medicare Rights Center, a national nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure access to affordable health care for older adults and people with disabilities. He is also an adjunct professor at the New York University School of Law. Previously, he was deputy secretary for health and human services for New York state.

ST. GEORGE — Each year, seniors can change their Medicare prescription drug plans and Medicare Advantage Plans during the annual open enrollment period, held between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7.

During this time, Medicare beneficiaries may notice an increase in Medicare-related advertisements, and it may be difficult to know where to turn for unbiased, objective assistance. The Area Agency on Aging – Five County is here to help with walk-in events in St. George and Cedar City on Oct. 22, as well as one-on-one plan reviews.

Staff and volunteers with the State Health Insurance Assistance Program can help local Medicare beneficiaries navigate the options available in the area. Medicare counselors with the SHIP program can provide benefits explanations and plan comparisons for all the Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage Plans available in Iron and Washington counties.

There are several new plans available in Southern Utah this year, and every Medicare beneficiary with a Medicare Advantage Plan or Medicare prescription drug plan could benefit from a plan review. This plan review takes only a few minutes to complete and could result in hundreds of dollars in savings.

Prescription drug plans and Medicare Advantage Plans can change their premium amounts, copays, deductibles, formularies and In-Network from year to year, so even the plan that was best last year may not still be the best option. And because everyones situation is unique, the best plan for one person may not be the same for their friend, neighbor or even spouse.

There are two ways to take advantage of the SHIP program. First, a walk-in event will be held Oct. 22 from 1-3 p.m. at both the Area Agency on Aging – Five County locations. Offices are located at 1070 W 1600 S Bldg. B in St. George and 585 N Main St. Ste. 1 in Cedar City.

The second way to take advantage of the SHIP program is to call and set an appointment for your one-on-one plan review. To schedule an appointment in St. George, contact Tom Everett at 435-673-3548. For an appointment in Cedar City, contact Amy Brinkerhoff at 435-867-6020.

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