Learn about Medicare health plans Oct. 8 in Bellingham

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 27, 2013 

BELLINGHAM - Seniors can learn about Medicare health and prescription drug plans at the Medicare Awareness Conference on Tuesday, Oct. 8, at Bellingham Senior Activity Center.

The event is 2 to 5 p.m. at 315 Halleck St.

It will allow people to explore their options - plans can change each year- prior to the annual enrollment period for Medicare, which is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.

Insurance companies will be at the center to answer questions and explain their plans.

People also will learn about Medicare 101 and hear from keynote speaker Larry Thompson, executive director of Bellingham-based Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement.

Thompson will present a broad overview of the federal Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, and upcoming Medicare changes in 2014.

He also will talk about changes that the Affordable Care Act is bringing to Medicare, including gradually phasing out the Part D "doughnut hole." The doughnut hole is the gap in prescription drug coverage under Medicare Part D.

Thompson said he also will discuss misinformation and confusion seniors have about other aspects of the Affordable Care Act as the next key piece of federal health care reform kicks in Oct. 1.

"We're already getting a range of questions," Thompson said.

Beginning Oct. 1 consumers without job-based health insurance will be able to go onto online marketplaces, called exchanges, to compare and buy health coverage and determine whether they qualify for financial help to do so.

Seniors on Medicare, which is the federal health insurance program for people 65 and older and the disabled, don't need to do anything because this piece doesn't apply to them. In fact, they can't enroll through the state exchange.

Thompson also is cautioning seniors to be wary of fraud, which is an issue each year during the Medicare enrollment period but has an added twist this go-round with crooks asking seniors for their personal information for the insurance exchange.

"There will be, and have been, a fair number of people who have tried to sell this, that or the other thing," Thompson said, "so you want to be cautious on the phone if you get telemarketers who purport to sell you some product or another."

Information also is available at medicare.gov or by calling 1-800-MEDICARE. People also can consult with local Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors at 360-788-6533 for help.

SHIBA is a program sponsored by the state's insurance commissioner to provide an unbiased source of information about Medicare.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com.

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