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October 17th, 2019

annual enroll dates 2019ROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times


Open enrollment for Medicare starts this Tuesday, and officials with the Liberal Senior Center (LSC) can help with Part D Medicare plans.

LSC Director Darlene Ford said every January, people can choose to be on a different prescription drug plan, which Part D is. Whether Part D is changed or not, though, will have no effect on Part A or Part B plans, and she added Part D does not have to be changed every year.

“We suggest they come in or go online themselves and check out the prices and the changes with the different providers each year,” she said. “It definitely changes. Some people feel comfortable changing every year with different providers, and other people say, ‘Even though it’s a little more expensive, I’m going to stick with this one because I like the quality of what they do.’”

The senior center can take appointments for those wanting help with enrollment with Part D, and those appointments can be made by calling 620-624-2511.

“We’ll have a signup sheet at the desk,” Ford said. “It’s going to go from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. We’ll have schedules on there, and they’ll sign up for the timeframe we’re available to do that. We’ll also have an open enrollment with SouthWest Kansas Area Agency on Aging. We’ll be advertising for that in the paper, so it’ll be out there.”

For appointments, Ford said people will need to bring all of their current prescriptions.

“They don’t need to bring vitamins or supplements,” she said. “They just need to bring their prescriptions with them, and it’s much easier for them to bring their whole bag of bottles because what we have to enter is the quantity, all the medical parts of it.”

Ford said plans will be examined, particularly for comparison of benefits, as different plans either cover all, something or nothing for certain items.

“We help them decide what they feel is important to them,” she said. “They contact carriers of those plans from a list they have to choose from, and they negotiate the information.”

Ford said all insurance companies have to offer the same plans with the same benefits when it comes to Medicare, but where they differ is cost.

“They do not have to offer is the same price,” she said. 

Ford said this is why it is important to do some shopping around ahead of time before signing up for a plan.

“With Medicare for those who are getting ready to go on it, you want to start a good six months before the age of 65 because it’s overwhelming to look at the packets of information and the level of information they’re trying to give you,” she said. “We encourage people to come see us. We’ll help show them the Web sites. I have some different flyers and things I can give them. I try and help explain what some of the terms mean.”

Ford said most people 65 and older automatically qualify for Medicare Part A, but Part B and Part D is when consumers want to use more caution in choosing a plan.

“Part B is your doctors, and you want to shop around,” she said. “At the same time, even if you are not on a lot of medications, you want to consider enrolling in Part D then because for every month you do not enroll for the prescription Part D part of Medicare, you’re penalized in the future.”

Some of what puzzles people about Part D, Ford said, is that it has not always been an option for consumer.

“When they started Part D, it was confusing for the folks who were being asked, ‘Would you like to get the prescription drug?’” she said. “As a helper, I want them to know up front what it means if they choose not do that.”

New for 2020, the donut hole is being eliminated for generic drugs. Ford explained where that concept came into play.

“The plan was it was going to cover the cost of the drugs, but they learned that there wasn’t,” she said. “Between what Medicare thought it was going to be able to pay versus what the Medicare recipient  was paying, there was a hole. They said, ‘Somehow we have to come up with this money. How are we going to do it?’ They came up with what they call the donut hole. When people are calculating their medications per month, there is a five to 12-month window, and it says according to the drug you’re on, you will get to that donut hole area on X number of months. That month, your premium will change for this many months, and then it will go to this.”

Between Jan. 1 and March 31 each year, those enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan can leave their plan and return to original Medicare.

“If you choose a particular plan for Medicare Part D supplement and you decide during the year you’d like to look at something else, you’re not sure this was the right plan for you, you can look into one of the other plans,” Ford said. “You would call the new provider you have and say, ‘Do you offer this plan, and what is it going to cost me to move into that plan?’ If I understand it correctly, you can change any month out of the year your Part D, but that doesn’t happen very much.”

Ford said Medicare officials look at the underwriting in a policy to see where a consumer’s health concerns are when changes are being considered.

“If you’re a still healthy person, I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal, but if there’s a health issue, this other plan may not be a better financial decision for you to change to,” she said. “You would make that decision. Am I willing to pay the increased premium to move from my first choice to my second choice. It still is an educated thing and asking a lot of questions, and what’s nice about that window early on is you have six months where you can be going through these things. Don’t waste time. Let’s see what we can find out and help you with because it is confusing, but we can take it a step at a time and understand it and fill comfortable before we say ‘Sign me up for this, and sign me up for that.’”

For more information about Medicare enrollment, contact the Liberal Senior Center at 624-2511.

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