Homework ahead for Medicare recipients | SierraSun.com

Homework ahead for Medicare recipients

Christine Stanley
Sierra Sun

Wednesday kicked off what could be a confusing seven-month journey for seniors covered by Medicare.

The months-long registration period for new Medicare part D insurance policies is a switch that will affect seniors and people who currently receive coverage through Medi-Cal. But with so much information to digest and decisions to make, experts are urging consumers to take their time and ask questions.

Geneva Carroll, outreach coordinator for the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program, HICAP, located in Auburn and Grass Valley, said there is an array of resources available to help consumers select the best plan that will take into account premiums, co-payments, deductibles, and prescription coverage.

“There are 47 plans available in California, but they are not all viable plans for all people in all areas,” Carroll said.

A representative from HICAP will be visiting the Truckee Tahoe Senior Center on Nov. 23 at 10 a.m. to discuss local coverage and the enrollment process, and to answer questions.

To help people get started, Carroll provided the Sierra Sun with some basic information that consumers should know.

– If you already have a Medicare HMO, you might not need to make changes. Read up on your providers to be sure that your plan is equal to or better than the new options.

– People on stand-alone Medicare A, which covers hospital visits, and Medicare B, which covers doctor visits, will need to make sure that their Medigap policies are equal to or better than the new options. Consumers should gather that information in writing from their Medigap policy provider.

– Medigap H, I, and J will be phased out in 2006, and those users will need to consider purchasing a Medicare Part-D plan.

– Medi-Cal’s coverage of drug benefits and Medicare beneficiaries will end on Jan. 1, 2006. Those who get their drugs paid for by Medi-Cal have been automatically assigned to a Part D plan. Make sure the appointed plan is the best fit. Users can switch to a new plan until the Dec. 31 deadline.

There is also financial assistance available for Medicare beneficiaries who are currently on Medi-Cal and need help paying for their drugs. Those people need to fill out a low-income subsidy form available at the local Social Security office.

Many healthy people might be hesitant to sign on to a plan that they see as currently unnecessary, but according to Carroll, not getting a foot in the door now could mean more money spent in the long run.

If Medicare recipients decide to enroll after the May 15 deadline and have not signed on with a policy, the government can assess a charge to Social Security checks.

Currently, that equates to 32 cents per month, for as long as recipients get their Social Security checks, according to Carroll.

“You have until May 15 to pick a plan, so please do not rush this decision,” said Carroll.

For more information on the Medicare prescription drug benefit, visit http://www.medicare.gov or http://www.medicarerxeducation.org or call 1-800-Medicare to speak with a Medicare representative

Call the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP) at 1-800-434-0222.

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