By Monica Cissell
Medicare can often seem like an endless maze. Although Medicare Open Enrollment is approaching quickly, there is still time to find a path to solution by learning how to DIY Medicare enrollment and part D review or by connecting with trained professionals or volunteers available in the community. Central Plains Area Agency on Aging (CPAAA) is here to help manage the Medicare maze.
In 2020, the Kaiser Family Foundation found there are 542,853 people in Kansas who are Medicare beneficiaries. Individuals new to Medicare through age or disability are often overwhelmed with trying to understand what Medicare is and what benefits are included. When Medicare Part D was implemented in 2006, it improved coverage. However; it also complicated the process. This coverage gave beneficiaries the power to make their own choices about their Medicare Drug Plans. Medicare is daunting enough, and most would rather sign up and be done with it instead of making decisions annually during the Open Enrollment period Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. However, by taking time and completing this review of Medicare coverage annually, those Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in an Advantage Plan Drug Plan or a Part D plan can save $782 or more each year. Dedicating time to review options and possibly finding a more optimal plan can be worth it in dollars and sense. Ninety two percent of the drug coverage comparison tool users in 2019 would have saved money on their 2020 plan by enrolling in a more cost-effective plan. Also, keep in mind that during open enrollment anyone with Original Medicare (Parts A & B) can switch to a Medicare Advantage plan. For Medicare Advantage plan beneficiaries, open enrollment offers the opportunity to drop the current plan and switch back to Original Medicare (Parts A & B) or switch to a new Medicare Advantage plan.
Online enrollment is a great option for many who are comfortable with computers to review available plans. Medicare.gov is a great resource. Tailored plans can be found here by logging into a personal account and inputting information such as your zip code and prescription medications. Creating an online account is not mandatory, but it is recommended. On Medicare.gov, plan choices are available for review, and this is where the online enrollment process will start. The enrollment process is very easy once a decision has been made on a plan.
Helpful tips on what to look for in your plan choices:
• The plan finder will sort the plans in order of least to most expensive prescription medications and the monthly premiums combined for the whole year. The first plan may have a higher monthly premium than the second plan on the list, but the prescriptions will cost less when you pick them up at the pharmacy, equaling a lower cost per year than the following plans.
• If insulin is needed, be sure to check the box labeled “Insulin Savings Program.”
• Pay attention to deductibles and prescription tier prices as well. If a high-end medication is not currently needed but it is possible it may be needed in the near future, make sure to look at the prices of the different tiers of medications in each plan.
For step-by-step instructions on how to review Medicare Drug Plans, view CPAAA’s Part D Drug Plan instructional video on YouTube. Simply search Central Plains Area Agency on Aging when in YouTube and once there search Medicare DIY or follow the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLv_YuBDY60.
Some people need help maneuvering through the enrollment process, understanding all of the available information and choosing the best plan for them. CPAAA has trained Medicare counselors on staff and volunteers who provide unbiased information about Medicare. Whether new to Medicare or reviewing plans during open enrollment, CPAAA’s Senior Health Insurance Counseling for Kansas (SHICK) program can help. Senior Center partners and the Sedgwick County Extension Center also offer this service. Call 1-800-860-5260 for a local SHICK counselor, contact a local Senior Center or call CPAAA at 855-200-2372 to make an appointment.
For more information on this and other programs contact the Resource Center at 855-200-2372 or visit www.cpaaa.org for more information.
Monica Cissell is director of information and community services for the Central Plains Area Agency on Aging.