Medicare Open Enrollment: shop around

In today’s world, we’re all a little more conscious of costs. Maybe we clip a few more coupons, eat out less, or compare ads to find the best price on something before we buy.

Cost is an important factor in any purchase, and health care is no different. We know you want to get the best value possible from your health care coverage. But you still need to make smart choices to get good value out of your health insurance.

There may be dozens of Medicare plans in your area, all with different costs and levels of coverage.How much are each plan’s premiums and deductibles? How much will you pay for the benefits and services you’re likely to use? Is there a limit on what you’ll have to pay out-of-pocket for the year?

Prescription drug coverage is another part of the cost puzzle. How much will your prescriptions cost under each plan?  Does the plan cover the drugs you take? Remember, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, everyone who reaches the Part D coverage gap (or “donut hole”) will benefit from a discount of more than 50% on covered brand-name drugs.

Only you can determine what mix of benefits and costs will work best with your needs and budget. Shopping around can make a huge difference, and we want to help.

The Medicare Plan Finder makes it easy to compare plans so you can pick a plan that meets your needs. After you’ve narrowed your options, you can call the plans you’re interested in to get more details about their benefits and services, or check out their websites.

Whether groceries, health insurance, phone plans or anything else, you want value for your dollar.  Make sure you have the most up-to-date information out there.

Medicare Open Enrollment: time to pick a plan

It’s picking season – pumpkins, apples, Halloween candy…and a Medicare health or drug plan. Today is 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 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? Remember that even if you’re happy with your current plan, these answers might change from year to year.

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. The Medicare Plan Finder makes it easy to compare plans so you can pick a plan that meets your needs.

Open Enrollment only comes once a year – are you ready?

As the days get shorter and the nights get cooler, you can expect to hear more about Medicare. That’s because October 15 – December 7 is Medicare Open Enrollment, and it’s your chance to review your health care coverage and see if you need to make any changes, or if you’re happy sticking with the plan you have.

This year, you may hear a lot about the Health Insurance Marketplace. The Marketplace Open Enrollment period (October 1, 2013–March 31, 2014) overlaps with the Medicare Open Enrollment period (October 15–December 7, 2013). The Marketplace is designed to help people who don’t have any health coverage. If you have health coverage through Medicare, the Marketplace won’t have any effect on your Medicare coverage.

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. Like an old friend, it shows up around the same time every year. 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. And, it’s against the law for someone who knows that you have Medicare to sell you a Marketplace plan.

2.     On your computer

Comparing your plan choices is important. Our Medicare Plan Finder is ready with all of the 2014 cost information to make it as easy as possible. Enter the drugs you take to find out how you can lower your costs, review the plan’s ratings to compare plan quality, and join a plan right online if you find one that meets your needs. If you haven’t used the Plan Finder before, check out our video to help you get started.

3.     In newspapers, magazines, TV and radio

Take a moment as you enjoy these crisp mornings to tune into 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!

Now’s the time to enjoy the choice and control you have over your health care coverage. Just like fall, Medicare Open Enrollment only comes once a year.

Protect yourself and those you love – get your free flu shot

It’s that time of year again.  With the beginning of fall comes the beginning of flu season. 

Get your flu shot early and stay healthy!  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 (such as senior centers and pharmacies) that take Medicare.

Schedule your flu shot today!

When was your last mammogram?

Mammograms are breast cancer screening tests that can often detect a lump before you or your doctor can feel it. This can help detect breast cancer early, when it’s the most treatable. All women over 40 should have a screening 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. Take control of your health – better health is in your hands.

“Medicare & You” without the paper

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.

On Medicare.gov, you can also 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 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 e-mail when information is updated
  • Access personalized information

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 e-mail including a link to the new online Medicare & You. It’s instant, current, and convenient.

Get yearly prostate cancer screenings

Did you know prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men?

Help prevent prostate cancer from affecting you or the men in your life. If you’re a man who’s 50 or older, make sure you get screened for prostate cancer every 12 months.

Your Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) covers 2 tests to help find prostate cancer early, when treatment works best:

- Digital rectal exam—You pay 20% of the Medicare-approved amount after the yearly Part B deductible.

-  Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test—Free to all men with Medicare 50 and older (coverage for this test begins the day after your 50th birthday).

Learn more about prostate cancer by visiting the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Take the test for HIV, take control

Have you ever been tested for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)? More than 1 million Americans are infected with HIV, yet approximately 1 in 5 of them don’t know it.

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 (such as gay and bisexual men, injection drug users, or people with multiple sexual partners).

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. Testing is also 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.

Visit Health & Human Services’ Aids.gov website to learn about National HIV Testing Day, June 27.

Redesigned with you in mind – your Medicare Summary Notice

The Medicare Summary Notice has a new look to help you better understand your Medicare information. We’re excited to announce that you will soon start to see the award-winning, redesigned Medicare Summary Notice (MSN) hitting your mailboxes.  The new design puts clear language in an easy-to-follow format, so that your Medicare information is easier to understand.

As part of our “Your Medicare Information: Clearer, Simpler, At Your Fingertips” initiative, we listened to you and made the MSN better with:

  • An easy-to-understand snapshot that puts the information you care about most (like deductible status, a list of provider visits, and claim status) in one convenient place.
  • A dedicated section that tells you how to spot potential fraud.
  • Clearer language, descriptions and definitions.
  • Larger type that makes the MSN easier to read.
  • Preventive services information to help you stay healthy.
  • A clearer description of the appeal process to follow if you disagree with a claim.

If you have Original Medicare, you can expect this new design for the MSN to arrive in your mailbox throughout the next few months. Or, better yet, go to MyMedicare.gov, where you can check your Medicare claims information online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Health screenings save men’s lives

Did you ever put off doing a task or getting a test and later wished you’d just gotten it over with? If you’re a man with Medicare, now’s the time to talk with your doctor about whether you should get screened for prostate cancer, for colorectal cancer, or for both. Screening tests can find cancer early, when treatment works best.

Don’t worry about the cost—if you’re a man 50 or over, Medicare covers a digital rectal exam and Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test once every 12 month. Also, Medicare covers a variety of colorectal cancer screenings, and you pay nothing for most tests.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, second only to lung cancer in the number of cancer deaths. Not sure you should get screened? You’re at a higher risk for getting prostate cancer if you’re a man 50 or older, are African-American, or have a father, brother, or son who has had prostate cancer.

Colorectal cancer is also common among men—in fact, it’s the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States among cancers that affect both men and women. If everyone 50 or older got screened regularly, we could avoid as many as 60% of deaths from this cancer.

In most cases, colorectal cancer develops from precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum. Fortunately, screening tests can find these polyps, so you can get them removed before they turn into cancer. If you’re 50 or older, or have a personal or family history of colorectal issues, make sure you get screened regularly for colorectal cancer.

June is Men’s Health Month, a perfect time for you (and the men in your life) to take the steps to live a safer, healthier life. Watch our videos on how Medicare has you covered on prostate cancer and colorectal cancer screenings, and visit the Centers for Disease Control for more information on men’s health.