Time to Review Your Medicare Coverage
By David Sayen
Medicare’s annual open enrollment season is underway, and I want to encourage everyone with Medicare to review their current health and prescription drug coverage.
Open enrollment began Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 7, 2014. If you want to change your Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D (prescription drug) plan, this is the time of year to do it. Any new coverage you select will take effect Jan. 1, 2015.
If you have Original (traditional) Medicare and you’re satisfied with it, you don’t need to do anything during open enrollment.
My agency, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, announced recently that the average Medicare Advantage premium for 2015 is projected to be $33.90 monthly. CMS also estimated that the average basic Part D premium in 2015 would be $32 per month. Since passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, enrollment in Medicare Advantage has increased 42 percent to an all-time high of more than 16 million people. Medicare Advantage premiums, meanwhile, have decreased 6 percent. The law is also closing the Part D “donut hole,” with more than 8.3 million people saving more than $12 billion on prescription drugs through last July.
Meanwhile, the quality of Medicare Advantage and Part D plans continues to improve. This year, people with Medicare who enroll in such plans will have access to more high-rated, four- and five-star plans than ever before. About 60 percent of Medicare Advantage enrollees are now in plans earning four or more stars in 2015, compared to an estimated 17 percent in 2009. Likewise, about 53 percent of Part D enrollees are currently in Part D plans with four or more stars for 2015, compared to 16 percent in 2009.
Medicare plans’ coverage options and costs can change each year, and Medicare beneficiaries should evaluate their current coverage and choices and select the plan that best meets their needs. If you think your current coverage will meet your needs for 2015, you don’t need to change anything.
A variety of resources are available to help you compare your current coverage with new plan offerings for 2015. You can:
• Visit www.medicare.gov to review plans available in your area, as well as their costs, and enroll in a new plan if you decide to. Open enrollment information is available in Spanish.
• Call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) for around-the-clock assistance to find out more about your coverage options. TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048. Counseling is available in a wide variety of languages.
• Review the 2015 Medicare & You handbook. This handbook has been mailed to the homes of people with Medicare and it’s also online at: www.medicare.gov/pubs/pdf/10050.pdf.
Get free, unbiased, one-on-one counseling from your local State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). Local SHIP contact information can be found:
• At www.medicare.gov/contacts/organization-search-criteria.aspx or;
• On the back of the 2015 Medicare & You handbook or;
• By calling Medicare (at 1-800 number above).
People with Medicare who have limited income and resources may qualify for Extra Help to pay for their Part D drug plans. There’s no cost or obligation to apply for Extra Help. Medicare beneficiaries, family members, or caregivers can apply online at www.socialsecurity.gov/prescriptionhelp or call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY users should call 1-800-325-0778) to find out more.
Better quality in Medicare Advantage and Part D plans isn’t the only good news for people with Medicare.
For most seniors who have Original Medicare, the 2015 Part B premium will stay unchanged for a second consecutive year, at $104.90. This means more of your retirement income and any increase in Social Security benefits will stay in your pocket. The Part B deductible will stay the same as well.
David Sayen is Medicare’s regional administrator for Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and the Pacific Territories. You can always get answers to your Medicare questions by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).