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Shop now. Save later.

Have you started shopping yet? Not for holiday gifts, but for a Medicare plan? You don’t have much time. Medicare’s open enrollment period closes Dec. 7.

See also: Free webinar about Medicare and open enrollment

Even if you are satisfied with your current plan, please check out alternatives. You might be surprised to find that another plan works better for you.

A survey by the National Council on Aging and United HealthCare found that more than one-third of respondents ages 65 and over who are enrolled in Medicare are spending $1,000 or more out of pocket each year on health care. The survey found that 29 percent are worried about their ability to pay those costs, but most are not taking steps to save money on coverage.

Although the majority of respondents described their ability to choose the best Medicare coverage to meet their health and financial needs as “excellent” or “good”, nearly half reported they had never shopped around.

The survey also found that many are not taking advantage of important programs that could help them afford health care costs.

Of the respondents who would qualify for assistance based on their income, more than two thirds had never heard of the Medicare Savings Programs, which help people with limited income pay premiums, deductibles and co-insurance. More than half had never heard of the Extra Help program for prescription drug costs.

"In this economy, many seniors are justifiably worried about their financial future," said Jim Firman, president and CEO of the National Council on Aging. "When it comes to Medicare costs, now is the time they can do something about it. Medicare beneficiaries should research their options and apply for available extra benefits. They may be surprised how much money they can actually save."

As you compare plans, some questions you should ask include:

  • What is the limit on my out-of-pocket costs?
  • Do I have a choice of doctors and pharmacies?
  • Can I get my prescriptions filled online?
  • Does the plan have a good quality rating?

You also should know there are several new Medicare benefits and savings available under the Affordable Care Act:

  • All Medicare beneficiaries will choose a “Part D” plan to help pay for prescription drugs and average “Part D” premiums will remain the same in 2012 as in 2011.
  • The “doughnut hole” gap in “Part D” prescription drug coverage begins to close in 2012 – folks who reach it will get a 50 percent discount on covered brand name drugs and a 14 percent discount on generics.
  • Medicare beneficiaries are entitled to free annual wellness visits and preventative screenings such as mammograms.
  • Participants in “Part C” Medicare Advantage plans will see their premiums reduced by an average of 4 percent, while extra benefits in some of those plans – such as for hearing or vision – are expected to remain the same.

Find more information online, call the Medicare hotline at 1-800-MEDICARE, or consult with a Tennessee State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) counselor at 1-877-801-0044.

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