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Medicare open enrollment begins earlier this year

Open enrollment period starts Saturday

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Much about the open enrollment period for Medicare is different this year: It is earlier, there are a lot of plans to choose from, and it might be cheaper.

Open enrollment begins Saturday, up from Nov. 15 in previous years, and ends Dec. 7.

Medicare recipients in Georgia will have 151 plans to choose from, including 17 “special needs” plans that cater to certain populations, such as those with a chronic illness, including diabetes, said Lauren Spivey, the Elder Rights Program manager for the CSRA Area Agency on Aging.

Many choices mean a lot to sort through, she said.

“Competition is good, but a lot of times there is confusion,” Spivey said.

For instance, many of the larger chain providers, such as Walmart, have teamed up with a specific provider to offer either Medicare Part D prescription drug plans or Medicare Advantage plans, which usually provide all Medicare services, including prescriptions. Customers should be aware of that when asking their pharmacist for help with choosing a plan, and they might want to double-check any recommendations, Spivey said.

“It’s better to call and check the source,” she said.

Medicare’s Web site, Medicare.gov, includes the popular “Medicare Plan Finder,” which allows recipients to plug in their prescriptions to find out which plans cover them and then compare costs.

The premiums for those plans have decreased a little, with the cheapest prescription plan coming in at $15.10 a month for next year, compared with about $16 a month for the cheapest this year, Spivey said. Overall, premiums for Medicare Advantage plans decreased by 4 percent for next year, and the average premium for prescriptions decreased to $30, about 76 cents less than this year, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Those who fall into the “doughnut hole,” where the plans stop paying for coverage until costs meet a new threshold, will be eligible for 50 percent savings on brand-name drugs and 7 percent savings on generics, the centers said.

There is also a little more flexibility to switch plans after open enrollment ends. Be­ginning Dec. 8, recipients may switch throughout the year to any of the plans Medicare has given its top 5-star rating, Spivey said. From Jan. 1 through Feb. 14, recipients may also switch from a Medicare Advantage plan to traditional Medicare and a prescription plan, in addition to the open enrollment period, she said.

HOW TO ENROLL

The easiest way to assess your options is to go to Medicare.gov and use its “Medicare Plan Finder.”

The tool allows you to plug in to compare coverage and price. It would first be wise to gather a list of all the medications you will need next year, so you can find which plans offer the best coverage.

Also, decide whether you want a Medicare Part D prescription plan or a Medicare Advantage plan.

Medicare Advantage, in many cases, replaces traditional Medicare coverage and might offer more benefits. It also might come with restrictions on access to certain services, such as specialists.

For help in Georgia, call the GeorgiaCares at (866) 552-4464. You also can reach the local GeorgiaCares program at (706) 210-2029.


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