Medicare open enrollment period starts Monday

    The open enrollment period for Medicare recipients starts Monday. Until the end of the year, seniors who are covered under the government’s health or prescription drug plans can switch coverage options. Officials are urging seniors to carefully look at the dozens of different plans that offer different benefits and determine which option is best for them.

    “Folks ought to think of it as their yearly coverage checkup,” says Loraine Ryan, with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the Philadelphia region. Ryan says seniors should think now about whether changes in their health might affect which plan is best for them over the next year. For example, which plan covers diabetes medication or visits to new specialists.

    “Open enrollment period is the one time when they can double-check their coverage or review what plans are available to them,” Ryan says.

    After they look at their health, seniors should see if their Medicare plans will change in the upcoming year. About half of the different Medicare Advantage plans offered in Pennsylvania will be eliminated in 2011, along with about a third of prescription drug plans. People who were enrolled in a plan that is being cancelled are automatically enrolled in a similar plan that still exists. Some critics say the cuts reduce senior’s right to choose, but Lorraine Ryan says it is an effort to streamline the system and reduce the number of nearly identical plans.

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    “The idea is to reduce redundancies, make clearer choices for folks, help them understand better what’s being offered to them,” Ryan says.

    Kellie Flanagan works for a non-profit that advises seniors on healthcare choices. She says seniors who call CARIE LINE, the help hotline where she works, are often overwhelmed by the dozens of choices before them. Still, she says it’s important to re-examine the changing options each year.

    “Some important considerations are if their doctors accept this particular plan they may enroll in,” Flanagan says, “and also looking to make sure the prescription drug plan covers the drugs that they need to take.”

    This year, there will be less flexibility than in previous years to change plans after the beginning of the new year, so it’s more important than ever for seniors to research their choices during the six-week open enrollment period.

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