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.

Medicare Open Enrollment: convenience matters

Have you ever pumped gas into your car from a station just around the corner from home even though it’s a bit more expensive than the one in town? Most of us have made decisions to do or not do something based on convenience.

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 this year:

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. Do the doctors you know accept your coverage? Where are the doctors’ offices? What are their hours? Do they often keep you waiting?

Pharmacy access

Is the pharmacy you use included in your drug plan’s network?  Do they use e-prescribing? 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.

Quality

Ask yourself whether you’re truly satisfied with your medical care. Not all health care is created equal, and the doctors, hospitals and facilities you choose can impact your health. Look for plans with a 5‑star performance rating — the right expertise and care may help speed your recovery and improve your outcomes.

Your time is valuable — and so is your health. Only you know what mix of coverage and convenience is most important to you and your family.

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.

Celebrating 30 years of Hospice care

November 2013 marks the 30th anniversary of Medicare coverage for Hospice care. That’s right, for 30 years Medicare has covered hospice care, so that those who are terminally ill can spend the last moments of their lives with dignity and comfort, among their loved ones.

Hospice is a program of care and support for people who are terminally ill. The focus is on comfort and support, not on curing an illness. Hospice care is generally provided in the home, by a specially trained team of professionals and caregivers. Services may include physical care, counseling, drugs, equipment, and supplies for the terminal illness and related condition(s).

For more information about hospice, you can visit Medicare.gov. To find a hospice program, talk to your doctor or call your state hospice organization.

Here’s to 30 more years of providing the comfort, care, and support that you and your family deserve during this difficult time.

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: 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.