The time of choices and changes is in full swing for Medicare beneficiaries.
Medicare’s annual Open Enrollment Period started on Oct. 15 and ends Sunday, Dec. 7. This time period is the opportunity for people with Medicare to change their health care and prescription drug plans for 2015 or to decide to keep the coverage they have.
“Every plan is making changes – some big and some small. Some plans are even shutting down. I recommend that every person entitled to Medicare review their current coverage and then look at the other plans to figure out what coverage would be best for them for 2015,” said Shelley Matson, Vernon County’s Elder Benefit Specialist.
An example of the upcoming changes is one Medicare Advantage Plan, UCare for Seniors Value Plus, is terminating at the end of the year. About 50 Vernon county residents are currently enrolled in this plan, which is also terminating in all counties along the western edge of Wisconsin. Current enrollees will need to select new health and drug coverage for next year or risk having little or no coverage. Across Wisconsin, more than 10,000 people are enrolled in Advantage plans that will no longer be available in 2015.
In Vernon County, for 2015 there are 29 prescription drug plans and 10 Advantage Plans, some of which also include drug coverage. Additionally 25 companies offer Medicare Supplement plans, which are not subject to the Open Enrollment Period deadlines.
An alternative to Medicare’s Part D prescription drug coverage is the State program, SeniorCare. The SeniorCare program has been available since 2002, which pre-dates the start of Medicare Part D in 2006, and SeniorCare’s current funding will need to be renewed by the end of 2015.
“Many people that I speak with about their Medicare choices are overwhelmed by the number of options to choose from and all the mail they are receiving from the plans,” said Matson. “So much so, some of them do nothing and just continue with their current coverage,” she continued. “This ‘do-nothing’ decision may end up not being the best option for them, for their finances or their health. We are available with information to help sort through their options.”
Elder Benefit Specialists serve every county in state, offering unbiased information and advocacy on public and private benefits including Medicare to persons age 60 and older. Disability Benefit Specialists offer similar services to persons aged 18-59.
Assistance in reviewing Medicare options is available directly from Medicare at 1-800-Medicare (1-800-633-4227) or at www.medicare.gov. Or from the Wisconsin Prescription Drug Helpline at 1-855-677-2783, or the Disability Drug Benefit Helpline at 1-800-926-4862.
Local assistance may also be obtained by appointment from the Vernon County Aging & Disability Resource Center (ADRC) at 608-637-5397 or 1-800-500-3910. Residents in other counties may contact the ADRC or Aging Unit serving their county or tribe. Information on programs to help with the costs of Medicare premiums and drug expenses is also available from these resources.