According to a survey by the National Council on Aging, fewer than 9 percent of all baby boomers and seniors know the correct start and end dates for Medicare's annual enrollment period.
And nearly half of all seniors 65 and older have never shopped around for the best Medicare coverage for themselves. Additionally, few seniors know about programs that could help them pay their Medicare premiums, co-pays or deductibles.
This year's Medicare enrollment period begins Oct. 15 and ends Dec. 7. During that brief window of time beneficiaries can review their Medicare Part D prescription drug plans and their Part C Medicare Advantage plans. They can also join, switch or drop their coverage for next year.
Every year, Medicare plans change monthly premiums, deductibles and co-payments. Plans also change provider networks and what health benefits they provide and what drugs they cover.
So Medicare beneficiaries should be sure to review their coverage each fall to find the plan that best suits their health-care needs. Questions that beneficiaries should check on this year include:
Will my doctor accept my Medicare plan in 2013?
Will my drug plan work with my pharmacy in 2013?
Are my prescription drugs still covered by my Medicare Part D plan in 2013?
Is there a less-expensive Medicare Part D or Advantage Plan available in 2013 that covers my drugs and is accepted by my doctor?
Am I eligible for any programs that can help me pay for my Medicare?
Is it better for me to stay on my employer retirement plan or convert to Medicare?
SEEKING FINANCIAL AID
There are financial-help programs that are free to qualifying individuals who meet income and asset limits. The programs pay for premiums, co-pays or deductibles, depending on income.
A person qualifying for the programs could save more than $1,150 a year. Here are some guidelines:
Help with Medicare Part A & B costs - called Medicare Savings Programs - is available for individuals with monthly income up to $1,257, and for couples with monthly income up to $1,702.
Also, the individuals must have less than $6,940 in assets (not including their home, car and up to $1,500 set aside for burial expenses), and couples must have less than $10,410 in assets.
Help with Medicare Part D costs - called Extra Help - is available for individuals with monthly incomes less than $1,397 and for couples with monthly incomes less than $1,892. People who work may have higher incomes and still qualify for Extra Help.
Asset limits also apply: $13,070 for individuals and $26,120 for couples.
SORTING IT OUT
For free, unbiased help with Medicare questions, Whatcom County residents can contact the Whatcom SHIBA (Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors) HelpLine, a service of the state Office of the Insurance Commissioner and a program of the Whatcom Alliance for Healthcare Access.
For help, call 360-788-6533.
People should call early so their appointment can be fit in before the enrollment period ends. People who call after Nov. 23 are not guaranteed a timely appointment.
NEED OTHER HELP?
People who don't have Medicare but who are having difficulty paying other health-care bills are welcome to call Whatcom Alliance to schedule an appointment to talk about their situation.
For that help, call 360-788-6594.
Click on the links below:
Maureen Kane is access services manager for Whatcom Alliance for Healthcare Access.