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Published September 22, 2012, 11:33 PM

Minding Our Elders: Time to examine Medicare Plans

Whether for yourself or to assist your parents or other elders, it’s time to review Medicare options if you want to make changes from the 2012 policies. Medicare annual open enrollment begins Oct. 15 with new benefit choices taking place Jan. 2013.

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

DEAR READERS: Whether for yourself or to assist your parents or other elders, it’s time to review Medicare options if you want to make changes from the 2012 policies. Medicare annual open enrollment begins Oct. 15 with new benefit choices taking place Jan. 2013.

During the Medicare annual enrollment period, which is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, all Medicare beneficiaries may change their Medicare coverage for the coming year. This includes anyone enrolled in traditional Medicare, Medicare D (prescription drug coverage) or Medicare Advantage. No action is necessary if you are happy with your coverage as it stands.

There has been progress this year in closing the Medicare D prescription coverage gap, popularly known as the donut hole. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), nearly 5.4 million people with Medicare saved more than $4.1 billion in out-of-pocket expenses on prescription drugs. The objective is to gradually eliminate the coverage gap over time. According to HHS, prescription drug coverage (Part D) will have an increased deductible but premium costs should remain the same as in 2012.

The majority of people on Medicare choose to enroll in Medicare B, which covers most doctor visits, some durable medical equipment, flu shots and various other outpatient medical services. There may be changes in the 2013 Medicare Part B premium costs because of the 2013 federal budget, but detailed information on these premium costs won’t likely be available until Medicare’s annual open enrollment period begins Oct. 15.

Medicare Advantage may also see changes. Medicare Advantage offers a different type of coverage than original Medicare. According to Medicare’s website, “A Medicare Advantage Plan is a type of Medicare health plan offered by a private company that contracts with Medicare to provide you with all your Part A and Part B benefits. Medicare Advantage Plans include Health Maintenance Organizations, Preferred Provider Organizations, Private Fee-for-Service Plans, Special Needs Plans, and Medicare Medical Savings Account Plans. If you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan, Medicare services are covered through the plan and aren’t paid for under Original Medicare. Most Medicare Advantage Plans offer prescription drug coverage.”

Medicare beneficiaries should receive their Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) and Evidence of Coverage (EOC) from their existing Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plan providers by Sept. 30. Take time to review the information you receive and look at all of your Medicare options. You may find more affordable coverage through a different combination of plans or you may find that you are satisfied with your choices made in 2012.

Keep in mind that you will likely see substantial advertising for Medicare plans, but there could be a plan that’s perfect for you that isn’t getting a lot of promotion. Don’t let ads fool you. You can educate yourself by registering at www.mymedicare.gov or calling your local Medicare office for more information.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.

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