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California Wildfire Victims Get Extra Time for Medicare Open Enrollment

Federal government also makes it easier for them to replace medical equipment and prescription drugs

California wildfire victim stares at the rubble that once was her home

Chris Pizzello/Associated Press

California wildfire victim Marsha Maus looks over her charred belongings.

Medicare beneficiaries who have been displaced or are recovering from the deadly wildfires in California will get more time to either enroll in or review and change their Medicare choices for 2019, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said this week.

Open enrollment for Medicare ends on Dec. 7, but in many areas of California, residents are still in the midst of fires, are living in shelters or have moved far from their homes. For these reasons and others, the CMS says beneficiaries affected by the wildfires will be given a “special enrollment period” that will enable them to add, drop or change their Medicare health and prescription drugs plans. To find out how to take advantage of this extended enrollment opportunity, call the Medicare hotline at 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227).

In addition, because a public health emergency has been declared in California, Medicare Advantage (MA) plans in the affected areas are now required to waive prior authorization and other similar requirements so their members can get care from non-network providers and hospitals faster.

Medicare open enrollment is here: Get all of the details you need to choose your coverage at Medicare Made Easy.

Fire victims who need to replace prescription drugs or medical equipment also will get some help. The CMS says that Medicare will pay to replace prescription medicines and that medical equipment suppliers can replace lost or damaged products without the usual doctor’s order or other required documentation. The waiving of these rules applies to durable medical equipment — such as wheelchairs, walkers and canes, as well as prosthetics, orthotics and other supplies. Medicare beneficiaries who are enrolled in MA plans and need to replace equipment or supplies should contact their insurance company to learn what the procedures are for getting what they need.

The CMS also has waived the requirement that Medicare enrollees must stay in a hospital for three days before they can be transferred to a skilled nursing or rehabilitation facility. This waiver will provide temporary emergency coverage for care in those facilities for individuals from areas that have been evacuated, along with those who have been transferred or otherwise dislocated due to the fires.

Dialysis patients who are unable to get their dialysis services at their usual facility and need assistance to figure out where they can go for this care can call the Northern California patient hotline at 800-637-4767 or the hotline number in Southern California at 800-637-4767.

If you have questions about how to access any of these emergency benefits, go to the CMS’s emergency web page or call the Medicare hotline at 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227).

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