Medicare Open Enrollment: time’s running out

It feels like “to do” lists are everywhere these days – on a pad of paper on the kitchen table, in email, or in an app on a smart phone.  If you still have “Review Medicare coverage” on your to do list, time is running out!

Medicare Open Enrollment ends this week on December 7. 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.

Remember, the Marketplace Open Enrollment period overlaps with the Medicare Open Enrollment period. 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.

In these last few days of Medicare Open Enrollment, take a second to review your options.  If you like your current health care coverage, you don’t need to do anything. But if you’re thinking about making any changes, now’s the time to act and cross another item off your to do list.

Medicare Open Enrollment: more is better

Going through the process of buying a new computer or tablet takes a bit of elbow grease, but when the salesman throws in free accessories and tech support, it’s worth it. Not only are the free accessories fun, but there’s a peace of mind knowing that the support you’ll need is free.

Extra benefits and peace of mind can be a big plus in health coverage, too.

You might be hearing a lot about the Health Insurance Marketplace this fall. That’s because the Marketplace Open Enrollment period overlaps with the Medicare Open Enrollment period. 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.

If you have Medicare, you’re not affected by the Marketplace, but you still get to enjoy extra benefits thanks to the Affordable Care Act like these:

Medicare also covers a yearly wellness exam each year. This is a great chance to sit down with your doctor and take the time to talk about your needs — and address small health concerns before they become big ones. You can keep track of your preventive services and get reminders for them at MyMedicare.gov.

Also, most people with Medicare have access to Medicare Advantage Plans, and many of these plans offer extra benefits that Original Medicare doesn’t cover like vision, hearing, dental coverage, prescription drugs, or extended coverage when you travel.

Just like deciding between a desktop, laptop, or tablet computer, only you know what extra benefits and services are most important for you and your family.

During Medicare Open Enrollment, decide what benefits are most important in helping you meet your unique health care needs. Use the Medicare Plan Finder to look at all of the health and drug plan options in your area.

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.

Are you ready for 2013? 4 questions to ask yourself

The new year is fast approaching. Here are a few things to ask yourself to make sure you’re ready for 2013.

1. Do you have the right insurance card to use when you go to the doctor in 2013?
If you changed your health or drug plan during Medicare Open Enrollment and don’t get your new card or welcome packet by January 1st, contact your plan for help. If you need to fill a prescription right away, find out how to fill a prescription without your card.

If you changed from a Medicare Advantage Plan (like an HMO or PPO) back to Original Medicare, use your red, white, and blue Medicare card when you go to the doctor. Get a new card if you lost or damaged yours, or need to update your information.

2. Did you budget for next year’s Medicare Part B deductible?
Don’t forget, if you have Medicare Part B and are in Original Medicare, you’ll have to meet your deductible before your Medicare coverage pays for services and supplies. Next year, the Medicare Part B deductible will be $147. Make sure to plan your health care budget to account for the increased cost of doctor visits for the time that it will take to cover your deductible. Find out more about Medicare costs in 2013.

3. Have you made appointments to get any preventive tests or screenings?
Medicare covers many preventive services to keep you healthy and screenings to check for health problems. Many of these services are covered each year at no cost to you. Ask your doctor when you should schedule your wellness visit and other screenings. You can also use MyMedicare.gov to track your visits and make a calendar of preventive services.

Talk to your doctor about these covered preventive services to find out what’s right for your health needs.

4. Does your drug or health plan meet your needs?
If not, Medicare has a way for you to get the coverage you want instead of having to wait for the next Open Enrollment. At any time during the year, you can switch to a Medicare Advantage Plan or Medicare Prescription Drug Plan that has a 5-star rating.

Plan ratings are based on member surveys, information from doctors and health care providers, and other sources. The plan ratings are scores that show the quality and performance of the plan, on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, with 5 being the highest rated plans.

You can make this change once per calendar year. Find 5-star health and drug plans in your area.

Remember to check www.medicare.gov for the latest Medicare news and information, and have a healthy 2013.

Medicare Open Enrollment: last chance to review and compare plans

Crossposted from healthcare.gov

By Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services

With the holiday season upon us, it’s easy to get busy this time of year. Some pretty important tasks can get left to the last minute. One of those important tasks is ensuring you are in the right health insurance plan in Medicare.  Selecting the right plan is a personal choice, and a lot of thoughtful consideration goes into finding the right match.  But just like the holidays, those key dates come whether or not you are ready.

If you haven’t made up your mind yet about a health or drug plan, now is the time to make your selection.  Medicare Open Enrollment ends on December 7.  To help you sort through your choices, try using the Medicare Plan Finder to review the options in your area. It can help you decide the best mix of benefits and costs that meet your needs and budget. 

If you’re like Helen Rayon from Philadelphia and find yourself in Medicare’s prescription drug coverage gap (“donut hole”), you will continue to save money in 2013 with big discounts on brand-name prescription drugs.  More than 5.6 million people like Helen have saved over $5 billion on prescription drugs in the donut hole since 2010.

In these last few days of Medicare Open Enrollment, take a second to review your options.  If you like your current health care coverage, you don’t need to do anything. But if you’re thinking about making any changes, now is the time to act and cross another item off your to-do list.

Saving money on health costs: Extra Help program

By: Jonathan Blum, Acting Principal Deputy Administrator and Director of the Center for Medicare

If you’ve ever found yourself skipping a day of your medication or cutting your pills in half to make your supply last a little longer, there’s 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. Did you know that the Extra Help program is estimated to be worth about $4,000 dollars per person, per year? Even if you’re not sure you’d qualify, it’s worth filling out an application to see.

Estimates show that about 2 million people with Medicare may be eligible for the Extra Help program but don’t even know it. Are you or a family member one of these people?

It’s easy and free to apply for Extra Help. Here’s how:

Don’t wait – apply today to see if you qualify for some extra help with your health costs.

Stay up to date on the latest Medicare news and follow us on Twitter @MedicareGov.

Medicare Open Enrollment: find comfort in convenience

By Jonathan Blum, Acting Principal Deputy Administrator and Director of the Center for Medicare

Like most people, I take comfort in the things I’m familiar with. I choose to shop at the supermarket around the corner because I know exactly where to find the things I’m looking for. Sure, I might be able to save a little more money by shopping at a different store on the other side of town, but I choose to stick with what I’m most comfortable. We all like to get a good deal, but convenience is a big part of the value.

The same is true when it comes to choosing a health plan: convenience matters. So in addition to cost, coverage, and benefits, here are some other things you may want to consider as you compare Medicare options during Open Enrollment:

Doctor and hospital choice

You want to be comfortable with the people you’re working with, especially when it comes to something as private as your health. Will your doctors and hospitals accept your current coverage next year? If you’re thinking about changing plans, make sure you check which doctors and hospitals you’ll be able to use. Where are they located, and what are their hours?

Pharmacy access

Is the pharmacy you use included in your drug plan’s network? Do they prescribe electronically? Can you get refills by mail? Remember that plan networks can change from year to year. If it’s important to you to stay with the same pharmacy, it’s worth checking to make sure they’ll still be in your plan’s network.

Travel

Maybe you travel a lot, or spend part of the year in a different state. If you do, make sure you know whether your coverage will travel with you.

We’re working hard to make sure you have choices in the way you get the Medicare benefits you’ve earned – and we want you to be comfortable. Use the Medicare Plan Finder to look at all of the health and drug plan options in your area. If you still need help comparing, call 1‑800‑MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

2013 Medicare update

By: Marilyn Tavenner, Acting CMS Administrator

We’re now past the halfway point for Medicare’s annual Open Enrollment period, which opened on October 15 and closes December 7. As you and your loved ones with Medicare sit down to consider your options for 2013, we’d like to share the latest news about Medicare. 

Our Administration is committed to making Medicare stronger for you and future generations. Thanks to the health care law, everyone on Medicare can get preventive services like mammograms and other cancer screenings for free. The health care law also makes prescription drugs more affordable for seniors who hit the donut hole.

These new benefits are making a difference for millions of Americans. 5.6 million seniors and people with disabilities have saved $4.8 billion on prescription drugs since the law was enacted, and during the first nine months of 2012 over 20.7 million people with original Medicare got at least one preventive service at no cost to them. 

These and other parts of the law will result in significant savings. We estimate that the health care law will save the average person in traditional Medicare $5,000 through 2022Earlier this year we projected that the standard premium for Medicare Part B (which covers certain doctors’ services, outpatient care, medical supplies, and preventive services) would rise by more than $9.00 a month in 2013. Today we announced that the actual rise will be lower—$5.00—bringing 2013 Part B premiums to $104.90 a month. By law, the premium must cover a percent of Medicare’s expenses; premium increases are in line with projected cost increases.  Medicare Part B premiums have gone up slowly over the past five years – an average of less than 2 percent a year, or $8.50 total.

Several other changes in 2013 include:

  • Medicare Part A Premium: Part A covers inpatient hospital stays, care in a skilled nursing facility, hospice care, and some home health care. Only about 1 percent of people with Medicare pay a premium for Part A services—you need to have paid Medicare payroll taxes for 40 quarters of employment or be married to someone who did. For those few affected, the 2013 Part A premium is decreasing to $441, down from $451 in 2012.
  • Medicare Part A Deductible: This deductible is the cost to people with Medicare for up to 60 days of Medicare-covered inpatient services in the hospitals for each benefit period (a benefit period starts the day a patient is admitted and ends when the patient has been out of the hospital for 60 days in a row.)  This will increase to $1,184 in 2013, up from $1156 this year (an increase of 2.4%).
  • Medicare Part B Deductible: The deductible will increase to $147 in 2013, from $140. This is still $15 below the deductible in 2011.  
  • Income-related Adjustments: People with Medicare who report 2011income above $85,000 a year ($170,000 filing jointly) are legally responsible to cover a larger portion of the cost of their coverage.  These premium adjustments range from $42.00 to $230.80 a month for Medicare Part B.

As Open Enrollment finishes up and we approach a new year, people with Medicare can be assured they are part of a program that strives to deliver better benefits while curbing costs. And we will continue to do all we can to make Medicare even stronger.

Medicare Open Enrollment: More is better

By Jonathan Blum, Acting Principal Deputy Administrator and Director of the Center for Medicare

In this season of Open Enrollment, people with Medicare have the opportunity to choose the Medicare plan that best serves their unique health needs and provides them with the greatest value. In determining the value of a plan choice, you should look not only at premiums and cost-sharing but also at what benefits and quality of care that money will buy. This year, I am proud to say that while costs, by and large, have remained relatively stable, the benefits that people with Medicare will get for their premiums continues to grow.

For those choosing Original Medicare, the benefit package continues to grow stronger and provide greater value. For example, EVERYONE with Medicare has access to a variety of preventive services and screenings, most at no cost to them when furnished by qualified and participating health care professionals. This includes things like diabetes and cancer screenings, and a yearly “wellness” visit. During the first 9 months of this year, over 20 million people with Original Medicare received at least one preventive service at no cost.

Beneficiaries may also explore their options beyond Original Medicare, as virtually all people with Medicare have access to Medicare Advantage Plans in 2013, and many of these plans offer extra benefits beyond the comprehensive package offered by Original Medicare. Medicare Advantage Plans may offer vision, hearing, or dental coverage, or extend coverage while you travel. And most Medicare Advantage Plans also include prescription drug coverage.

Use this time to decide what benefits are most important in helping you meet your unique health care needs. Use the Medicare Plan Finder to look at all of the health and drug plan options in your area for what will provide you with the greatest value. If you still need help comparing, call 1 800 MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048.

Only you know what extra benefits and services are most important for you. Just know that no matter how you choose to get your Medicare benefits, you’ll be getting more.

Stay up to date on the latest Medicare news and follow us on Twitter @Medicaregov.