Medicare Open Enrollment: Are you ready to pick a plan?

Fall is picking season – pumpkins, apples, Halloween candy…and a Medicare health or drug plan. Today’s the start of Medicare Open Enrollment!

Picking a plan is an important and personal decision. Now’s the time to think about what matters to you, and to pick the Medicare plan that meets your needs. Here are some things to think about:

Does the plan cover the services you need?

Future health care needs can be hard to predict, but changes happen. Make sure you understand what services and benefits you’re likely to use in the coming year and find coverage that meets your needs. If you have other types of health or prescription drug coverage, make sure you understand how that coverage works with Medicare. And, if you travel a lot, does your plan cover you when you’re away from home?

No matter what plan you pick, you’ll have better choices and more benefits thanks to the Affordable Care Act like these:

What’s the cost?

The lowest-cost health plan option might not be the best choice for you – consider things like the cost of premiums and deductibles, how much you pay for hospital stays and doctor visits, and whether it’s important for you to have expenses balanced throughout the year.

How about convenience?

Your time is valuable. Where are the doctors’ offices? What are their hours? Which pharmacies can you use? Can you get prescriptions by mail? Do the doctors use electronic health records or prescribe electronically?

Quality is important!

Not all health care is created equal, and the doctors, hospitals and facilities you choose can impact your health. Open Enrollment is also a good time to ask yourself whether you’re truly satisfied with your medical care. Look for plans with a 5‑star performance rating — the right expertise and care can make a difference.

Remember that even if you’re happy with your current plan, these answers might change from year to year – so it’s important to take the time to compare. The Medicare Plan Finder makes it easy to compare plans based on all of these factors, so you can pick a plan that meets your needs.

Cutting-edge colorectal cancer screening now covered

Did you know colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States among cancers that affect both men and women? More than 90% of cases occur in people who are 50 years old or older. More men than women get colon cancer, and 1 or 2 out of every 100 men who are 60 today will develop colon cancer by age 70.

Starting today, people with Medicare who don’t show symptoms of colorectal cancer will have access to the Cologuard™ multi-target stool DNA test, a first-of-its-kind test. It’s being covered more quickly than usual by Medicare through a pilot program run jointly by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Medicare. Medicare and the FDA are working together to get you state-of-the-art treatments faster.

In most cases, colorectal cancer develops from precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum. Cologuard™ studies a patient’s stool sample to see if there’s DNA code that suggests either the presence of precancerous polyps or colorectal cancer. This way, your doctors can find these polyps and you can get them removed before they turn into cancer.

Medicare Part B covers the Cologuard™ test once every 3 years for people with Medicare who meet all of these conditions:

  • Between 50 and 85 years old
  • Show no signs or symptoms of colorectal disease including, but not limited to, lower gastrointestinal pain, blood in stool, positive guaiac fecal occult blood test or fecal immunochemical test, and
  • At average risk of developing colorectal cancer—have no personal history of adenomatous polyps, colorectal cancer, or inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis; and have no family history of colorectal cancers or adenomatous polyps, familial adenomatous polyposis, or hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer

Cologuard™ is one of several tools that Medicare covers to detect colorectal cancer. Talk with your doctor about which colorectal cancer screenings you should try.

Now’s the perfect time to get your free flu shot

It’s that time of year again. Protect yourself and the ones you love this flu season with your free flu shot.

Get your flu shot early and stay healthy! Flu viruses change from year to year, so it’s important to get a flu shot each flu season. It’s free for people with Medicare, once per flu season in the fall or winter, when given by doctors or other health care providers (like senior centers and pharmacies) that take Medicare.

Schedule your flu shot today!

Medicare Open Enrollment is coming soon – do you need to make a change?

As the days get shorter and the nights get cooler, you can already see the leaves starting to change. Like the changing leaves, the fall also brings your chance to make changes to your Medicare coverage. That’s because October 15 – December 7 is Medicare Open Enrollment. It’s your chance to review your health care coverage and see if you need to make any changes for next year. Or, you may decide you’re happy with the plan you have now. If that’s the case, and the plan is still being offered next year, you don’t need to do anything.

Over the next few months, look around – you’ll find a wealth of information about your Medicare benefits, especially in these everyday places:

1. In the mail

Look through your mail carefully — you may get important notices from your current plan, Medicare, or Social Security about changes to your coverage or any Extra Help you may get paying for prescription drugs.

Also, look for your Medicare & You handbook. It contains information about all of the Medicare plans in your area. If you decided to “go paperless,” you’ll get an email pointing you to Medicare.gov where you can get all the same information.

You’ll also start to see brochures from companies that offer Medicare health and drug plans. Just remember, be smart about protecting your personal information and your identity — plans aren’t allowed to call or come to your home without an invitation from you.

2. On your computer

Comparing your plan choices is important. Our Medicare Plan Finder is ready with all of the 2015 health and drug plan cost information to make it as easy as possible. Enter the drugs you take to find out how you can lower your costs and review the plan’s ratings to compare plan quality. If you find a plan that meets your needs, you’ll be able to join the plan right online starting October 15. If you haven’t used the Plan Finder before, check out our video to help you get started.

3. In your community

Take a moment as you enjoy these crisp mornings to review the Medicare information that’s out there. You may find a local event — somewhere right around the corner with counselors to help you, like your State Health Insurance Assistance Program. Don’t miss the chance to get personalized help if you need it!

Did you get your mammogram this year?

Mammograms are breast cancer screening tests that can detect a lump before you or your doctor can feel it. This helps to detect breast cancer early, when it’s most treatable. All women over 40 should have a mammogram every 12 months – and Medicare covers it at no cost if your doctor accepts assignment. Talk to your doctor about risk factors and to schedule your next screening.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, so let’s spread the word on the fight against breast cancer.

Need therapy services? Be sure you know Medicare’s limits

Are you getting physical therapy after a hip replacement? Speech-language pathology services after a stroke? Anytime you get outpatient physical therapy, occupational therapy, or speech-language pathology services, be sure you know the limits for how much Medicare will pay.

Medicare helps pay for medically-necessary outpatient physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology services. There are limits, called “therapy caps,” on these services when you get them from most outpatient providers.

The therapy cap limits for 2014 are:

  • $1,920 for physical therapy (PT) and speech-language pathology (SLP) services combined
  • $1,920 for occupational therapy (OT) services

You may qualify to get an exception so that Medicare will continue to pay its share for your services after you reach the therapy cap limits.

October is National Physical Therapy Month – take the time to learn more about Medicare’s limits on therapy services.

Go Green with “Medicare & You”

Love your red, white, and blue “Medicare & You” handbook but love the convenience of getting information on your computer, tablet, or phone even more?

You can get all of the same information in your printed handbook online at Medicare.gov. Learn what’s new, get Medicare costs, and find out what Medicare covers. Even better, the handbook information on the web is updated regularly, so you can instantly find the most up-to-date Medicare information.

Visit Medicare.gov to do a lot of things on your own like replace your Medicare card, change your address, sign up or make changes to your Medicare coverage, and find out important dates. All this in time for October 15 – the start of Medicare Open Enrollment.

Take advantage of some other great features to get just what you need:

  • Search quickly for what you want and print only the pages you need, while getting the latest, up-to-date official Medicare information, including the most recent list of available plans
  • Get “Medicare & You” in different formats like large print, eBook or audio
  • Subscribe to get an email when information is updated
  • Access personalized information at MyMedicare.gov

And, if you’d like to trade in your printed copy for a paperless version, we’ve got you covered. You can choose to get your next “Medicare & You” handbook electronically by using the “go paperless” option. In a few simple steps, you’ll be all set. Sign up today, and we’ll send you an email including a link to the new online Medicare & You. It’s instant, current, and convenient.