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Medicare Open Enrollment Nears
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Medicare Open Enrollment Nears

Tips to help Medicare beneficiaries get ready.

Medicare beneficiaries preparing for open enrollment this month may want to consider their current health needs and the many preventive services covered by Medicare.

Pam Smith, the Virginia Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program state director, has these tips for older Virginians looking to prepare for the enrollment period, Oct. 15 - Dec. 7. New insurance will not take effect until Jan. 1, 2017.

“Just as your health needs can change, so can the coverage and costs of health plans,” Smith said. “Your health care provider and medications may be covered this year, but that does not necessarily mean they will be covered next year when your enrollment takes effect. Plans can change the list of covered drugs, premiums may increase and providers may leave networks, making this annual evaluation critical.”

Things to consider when evaluating a plan:

  • Have health needs changed?

  • Will the plan cover the services that are needed?

  • Are the beneficiary’s medications still covered?

  • Is the health provider still in network?

  • Are premiums or out of pocket costs increasing?

Update the list of medications, preferred pharmacies and health care providers, and then consider contacting trained counselors through the local Area Agency on Aging for free, confidential assistance in making the best decision for this enrollment period. These counselors can also help determine if the beneficiary is eligible for low-income subsidies which may help pay some premiums and prescription costs.

Call your local AAA in advance to schedule an appointment as time slots fill quickly. A complete list of Virginia’s AAAs and their contact information is online at www.vda.virginia.gov/aaalist.asp.

Medicare’s benefits include a number of preventive and screening services designed to detect health problems early when they’re easier to treat. Among them are diabetes screening, flu shots, prostate cancer screenings and the one-time “Welcome to Medicare” preventive visit to a health care professional.

Other sources of information to consult during the enrollment period include:

  • Review “Medicare & You 2017,” a handbook that is mailed to people with Medicare, or visit http://1.usa.gov/1sCBzIi.

  • Visit https://www.medicare.gov/find-a-plan/questions/home.aspx to compare current coverage with options available in the area and enroll in a new plan if it makes sense to make a change.

  • Call 800-MEDICARE at (800) 633-4227 to find out more about coverage options. TTY users may call (877) 486-2048.

  • Those with limited income and resources may be able to get assistance through Social Security’s “Extra Help” program to pay prescription drug coverage costs. For more information, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/i1020 or call Social Security at 800-772-1213. TTY users may call (800) 325-0778.

For more information on where to find local assistance, contact the Virginia Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program at 800-552-3402 or 804-662-9333. TTY users may call 800-464-9950 to reach VICAP.

The Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, in collaboration with community partners, provides and advocates for resources and services to improve the employment, quality of life, security, and independence of older Virginians, Virginians with disabilities, and their families. For more information, visit www.vadars.org.