Support World AIDS Day: Wear your red ribbon

About 50,000 people in the U.S. get HIV each year. Of the 1.1 million people currently living with HIV in the U.S., 1 in 8 don’t even know they have it. December 1 is World AIDS Day and the 2015 theme is “The Time to Act Is Now.”

HIV is the virus that can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. Early testing and diagnosis play key roles in reducing the spread of the disease, extending life expectancy, and cutting costs of care. At least 1 in 3 people in the U.S. who test positive for HIV is tested too late to get the full advantage of treatment. However, thanks to better treatments, many people with HIV and AIDS in the U.S. are living longer. Testing is an important first step in getting HIV-infected people the medical care and support they need to improve their health and help them maintain safer behaviors.

Medicare covers HIV screening for people with Medicare of any age who ask for the test, pregnant women, and people at increased risk for the infection (like gay and bisexual men, injection drug users, or people with multiple sexual partners).

Visit to learn more about World AIDS Day and to learn more about their Act Against AIDS campaign.

To find an HIV test site, visit or text your zip code to “KNOWIT” (566948).

Medicare Open Enrollment: Time is running out!

It’s the holiday season and it seems like to-do lists are always pretty packed around this time of year. With family and job responsibilities, some pretty important tasks can get left to the last minute.

Picking the right health plan is a personal choice and a lot of thoughtful consideration goes into finding the right match. If you haven’t made up your mind yet, now is the time to make your selection. Medicare Open Enrollment ends December 7. Time is running out, but just because we’re near the deadline, doesn’t mean the task is any less important.

To help you sort through your choices, try using the Medicare Plan Finder. You can review the plan options in your area and decide the best mix of benefits and costs that meets your needs and budget.

In these last few days of Medicare Open Enrollment, take a second to review your health care coverage and see if you need to make any changes for next year. If you decide you’re happy with the plan you have now, and the plan’s still being offered next year, you don’t need to do anything. But if you’re thinking about making any changes, now’s the time to act so you can cross another item off your to-do list.

Make today the day you quit smoking

Smoking tobacco can cause many diseases including heart disease, respiratory diseases, and lung cancer —the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. Over 56 million people in the U.S. still smoke tobacco, but quitting can reduce your risk of getting these diseases. You can quit smoking today, and Medicare is here to help.

Besides being famous for Thanksgiving, November is also Lung Cancer Awareness Month and the Great American Smokeout. While you’re making lists for the upcoming holiday season, make a note to talk with your doctor about quitting if you smoke. Medicare covers 8 face-to-face smoking cessation counseling sessions during a 12-month period. If you haven’t been diagnosed with an illness caused or complicated by tobacco use, you pay nothing for these counseling sessions, as long as you get them from a qualified doctor or another Medicare provider. Watch our video to learn more about Medicare’s benefits to help you quit.

Save time with automatic payments

We like when things are automatic. From smart phone reminders to automatic coffee makers—it’s nice when something’s done before we even need to think about doing it. Whether you’ve already picked a new plan for 2016, or decided to keep the plan you had in 2015, one thing you might not have thought about is paying the monthly premium. Did you know that you can have this premium automatically deducted from your monthly Social Security payment?

Most Medicare Prescription Drug Plans charge a monthly fee that varies by plan. You pay this in addition to the Medicare Part B premium. It’s important to pay this premium on time to keep your coverage and the peace of mind that comes with it.

All you need to do is contact your drug plan (not Social Security). Your first deduction will usually take 3 months to start, and 3 months of premiums will likely be deducted at once. After that, only one premium will be deducted each month. You may also see a delay in premiums being withheld if you switch plans. If you want to stop premium deductions and get billed directly, just let your plan know.

Take the worry and guesswork out of when to pay your premium bills, and contact your plan today. Rest assured knowing that your payments will be sent as scheduled—on time, every time.

Get smart: Know when to use antibiotics

It’s that time of year again—flu season! But if you get sick, think twice before going to your doctor for antibiotics. If you get a cold or flu, antibiotics won’t help. That’s because these are viral infections, and antibiotics only cure bacterial infections. Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them can be harmful. Every time you take antibiotics, they kill sensitive bacteria, but resistant germs may survive to grow and multiply. These resistant germs can lead to severe infections, hospitalizations, and death—especially among people over 65.

The CDC has marked this week as Get Smart About Antibiotics Week. Here are 3 things you can do to make sure you’re using antibiotics the right way:

  1. Take antibiotics only to treat true bacterial infections. It should be for only as long as your doctor prescribed to treat the infection, to reduce your risk of getting the infection again, or to reduce the risk to those around you.
  2. Always talk to your doctor before taking an antibiotic to be sure it will treat the infection you have.
  3. Never take antibiotics for a viral infection, like a cold, cough, or flu. Antibiotics won’t cure your virus, they won’t keep those around you from getting sick, and they won’t help you feel better. In fact, taking antibiotics when you have a virus may do you more harm than good, because you increase your risk of getting an antibiotic-resistant infection later.

Antibiotics won’t help you recover from the flu, but you can keep yourself from catching the major flu viruses in the first place by getting your flu shot! It’s free for people with Medicare, once per flu season when given by doctors or other health care providers (like senior centers and pharmacies) that take Medicare.

Saving money on health costs: find out if you qualify for Extra Help

Do you find yourself skipping a day of your medication or cutting your pills in half to make your supply last a little longer? Or, have you put off filling a prescription because you can’t afford it? If so, we can help.

Medicare has a special program called “Extra Help.” If you have limited income and resources, you can sign up to get help paying things like monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and prescription copayments in your Medicare drug plan. Drug costs in 2016 for most people who qualify will be no more than $2.95 for each generic drug and $7.40 for each brand-name drug.

Even if you’re not sure you’d qualify, it’s worth filling out an application to see. Many people with Medicare may be eligible for Extra Help but don’t even know it. Are you or a family member one of them? It’s easy and free to apply for Extra Help. Here’s how:

  • Apply online.
  • Call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213. TTY users should call 1‑800‑325‑0778.
  • Apply at your local Social Security office.

Don’t wait—apply today to see if you qualify for some Extra Help with your health costs.

Medicare can help you fight lung cancer

More men and women in the United States die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer. Every year, about 200,000 people are diagnosed. The best way to lower your chances of developing lung cancer is to quit smoking and using tobacco products.

If you use tobacco, Medicare Part B covers up to 8 face-to-face smoking cessation counseling visits in a 12-month period and a lung cancer screening once per year. You pay nothing for these services if your doctor accepts assignment. Watch our video to learn more about Medicare’s benefits to help you quit.

Want to learn more about how smoking affects your health or to find tips and resources to help you quit? Visit, or call the National Network of Tobacco Cessation Quitline at 1-800-QUITNOW (1-800-784-8669).

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Breathe easier knowing Medicare is here to help keep you healthy.