Is your Medicare ready for 2014?

The new year is fast approaching. Here are a few things to ask yourself to make sure you’re ready for 2014.

1. Do you have the right insurance card to use when you go to the doctor in 2014?
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, the same as it was in 2013. 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 2014.

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 2014!

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.

Saving money on health costs with some Extra Help

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.  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 the Extra Help program 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:

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

Get smart about using antibiotics

As we enter flu season, you may seek fast relief when illness strikes, but think twice before asking your doctor for antibiotics. Did you know that if you have a cold or flu, antibiotics won’t work for you? That’s because antibiotics cure bacterial infections, not viral infections. Every time someone takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed, but resistant germs may survive to grow and multiply. These resistant germs 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 properly:

1. Take antibiotics only to treat a true bacterial infection. 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, such as a cold, cough, or the flu. Antibiotics won’t cure your virus, they won’t keep those around you from getting the illness, 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 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 in the fall or winter, when given by doctors or other health care providers (such as senior centers and pharmacies) that take Medicare.

Medicare is ready to help you quit smoking

Every year, more people die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer and smoking is the leading cause. Don’t become a statistic – Medicare is ready to help you quit smoking. Talk to your doctor today and cross one thing off your list.

Besides being famous for Thanksgiving, November is also Lung Cancer Awareness Month. 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.

Medicare Open Enrollment: 4 ways to protect your identity and information

  1. Guard your information.
  2. Be wary of giveaways.
  3. Don’t lend your identity.
  4. If you spot something, say something.

These are 4 simple ways to protect your identity and personal information from Medicare fraud, but they can be difficult to do if you’re caught off guard.

During Medicare Open Enrollment – between now and December 7 – you can expect to hear a lot about Medicare. 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. In fact, it’s against the law for someone who knows that you have Medicare to sell you a Marketplace plan.

Open Enrollment is a great time for you to review and compare your Medicare choices and make sure you have the coverage that fits your needs. Unfortunately, it’s also a popular time for Medicare fraud schemes.

Here are a few reminders to keep you safe from those who might not have your best interests in mind:

1.     Guard your Medicare and Social Security numbers – treat them like you’d treat your credit cards.

You’ll be hearing so much about Medicare during Open Enrollment, that it may not surprise you to get phone calls or visits to your house from people selling Medicare plans.

It’s illegal for someone to call and ask for your Medicare number, Social Security number, or bank or credit card information.  A Medicare representative or a private insurance plan working with Medicare will never call and ask for this information, and we will never call you or come to your home uninvited to sell Medicare products.   And remember, it’s against the law for someone who knows that you have Medicare to sell you a Marketplace plan.

2. Be suspicious of people offering free medical equipment or services.

Anyone who offers you free medical equipment or services and then requests your Medicare number is tricking you – if it’s really free, they don’t need your Medicare number. It’s illegal, and it’s not worth it!

3.     Don’t let anyone borrow or pay you to use your Medicare card or your personal information.

If someone asks you for your Medicare number, stop and think. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable giving that person your credit card number, don’t give them your Medicare number.

4. Most importantly, if you suspect Medicare fraud, let us know! Call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

Learn more at stopmedicarefraud.gov. Remember, a little preparation goes a long way. If you experience a Medicare fraud scheme – walk away, hang up, close the door, or say “no thanks.”

Caring for someone with Medicare? Get some help.

Did you know that  over 66 million Americans care for loved ones who have chronic illnesses, disabilities, or frailties that come naturally with old age?

November is National Family Caregiver Month – a perfect opportunity to reach out for help if you’re caring for someone with Medicare. If you’re a caregiver, here are 4 things you can do this month to help you help your loved one:

  1. Check out our caregiver resources, including our caregiver resource kit  and tips on how to take care of yourself.
  2. Make sure your loved one’s Medicare coverage still meets their needs. Medicare Open Enrollment is from now until December 7, and it’s important to take a few minutes to review coverage and pick a plan that works for your loved one.
  1. Learn how to reach out for help with AARP’s article on “Creating Your Caregiving Team” – a great reminder that caregiving is a big responsibility that no one should take on alone.
  2. Find resources near you by visiting the Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator.

BELIEVE in yourself… PROTECT your health… REACH OUT for help.