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Make Your Medicare Selections Early This Year

This year, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, important changes are coming to Medicare that will affect residents across Wyoming and across the country. Mike Fierberg, a spokesman in the Denver regional office of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services summed up the biggest changes.

See Also: Medicare Open Enrollment

If you have other questions, or you need more information, please call Medicare’s information toll-free line at 1-800-MEDICARE or 1-800-633-4227. The number is staffed around the clock every day of the week with people trained by Medicare to answers questions. Information is also available through two websites – www.medicare.gov or www.healthcare.gov.

Q: What’s new with Medicare this year?
A: This year the biggest change is to the enrollment period for Medicare Part D. In the past, it was from Nov. 15 to Dec. 31. This year, it’s Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. It’s a longer period, but it ends sooner.

It’s a part of the Affordable Care Act, and it came at the request of many constituencies, including constituencies in Wyoming for several reasons. First, the beneficiaries didn’t like that it spanned the holiday season. Second, the volunteers and counselors were not crazy about working through the holidays. And third, we’re allowing a three-week period between the enrollment deadline and the effective date. Before, if you made your elections on Dec. 29, and they went into effect on Jan. 1, there was not enough time to process that election and send out the information to pharmacies, so any changes were not recognized.

Now, we have three weeks to have the elections processed, and that’s good. The down side is that a lot of people are not aware of the change, and after Dec. 7, they may not be able to make changes to their plans.

Q: What other Medicare Part D changes should people be aware of?

A: There are increased discounts in the doughnut hole (the point at which Medicare Part D stops covering prescriptions for a period of time) for generic medications. Before this year, when people reached the doughnut hole, brand-name prescription drugs were discounted by 50 percent, and generics were discounted by 7 percent. Now, brand-name drugs will be still be discounted by 50 percent but generics will be discounted by 14 percent.

The latest report shows that as of the end of July more than 1,800 people in Wyoming have reached the doughnut hole and saved around $1 million on prescription drugs. As the year progresses, more people will reach the doughnut hole. Last year it was about 6,000, and this year it will probably be about the same. Because of these discounts, thousands more will be saving money between now and the end of the year.

Premiums on Part D are on average going down by a few cents a month, but individual plans may vary. We urge people to spend some time and compare plans to see what’s best for them. Details about the options were posted on www.medicare.gov on Oct. 1. We also have real, live people to help answer questions on the phone at 1-800-MEDICARE or 1-800-633-4227. They are all trained and they are all located in the United States. There are plenty of resources if people are stumped. In Wyoming, the Senior Health Insurance Information Program can be reached at 1-800-856-4398. Wyoming Senior Citizens Inc., has the contract to provide the service. We have complete confidence in them and they provide straightforward, unbiased information.

Q: Are there other changes people should know about?

A: Sadly, a lot people are not aware of the expansion of services for preventive medicine. Medicare has covered a lot of preventive screenings, for cancer, diabetes and cholesterol, subject to a co-pay or a deductible. Now there is no co-pay or deductible. This is huge.

Wellness screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies won’t cost anything and may save your life. The more often people get preventive screenings, the more often something is caught earlier. It’s easier and less expensive to treat, and individual outcomes are better. By spending more now on screenings, Medicare is saving tens of billions of dollars in costs for people who need care. It’s better health and better living. It’s a smart investment. This preventive care is available whether you have Medicare A or B or Medicare Advantage.

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