Greg Dill: Improved online tool helps you choose Medicare plans
Special to The Union
Just a reminder that Medicare’s annual Open Enrollment Period starts Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 7, 2019.
This is the time of year when you can change how you get your Medicare coverage, switch health and drug plans, and add or drop Medicare prescription drug coverage. So it’s important that you review your current coverage. Check your current enrollment at Medicare.gov/find-a-plan/enrollment/check-enrollment.aspx.
If you’re happy with your current Medicare coverage, you don’t need to do a thing during Open Enrollment. But people often find they can save money or find a plan that better meets their health needs by shopping around.
To help you shop for 2020 Medicare health and drug plans, we’ve just introduced an improved version of our popular Medicare Plan Finder, at Medicare.gov/plan-compare/#/?year=2020.
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The redesigned Medicare Plan Finder makes it easier than ever to compare coverage options, shop for plans and feel confident in your choice. This tool now works on your smart phone, tablet and desktop computer.
With Medicare Plan Finder you can:
Compare up to three health or drug plans side-by-side;
Get plan costs and benefits, including which Medicare Advantage plans offer extra benefits;
Build a personal drug list and find a Medicare prescription drug plan (Part D) that best meets your needs. We’ll start by suggesting prescriptions that you filled within the last 12 months. And when you search for a brand name drug, we’ll show it along with any lower-cost generic alternatives.
If you’re new to Medicare, you’ll need to decide upfront how you get your Medicare coverage. Medicare Plan Finder can help with this, too. By selecting “Learn more about Medicare options before I see plans,” you can compare the different ways you can Medicare coverage — through Original Medicare (with or without extra coverage) or a Medicare Advantage plan.
For a more personalized experience, you can also create your own Medicare account at MyMedicare.gov. Among other things, this account allows you to print a new Medicare card if you lose yours.
About 10,000 people enroll in Medicare each day, and we’re improving our online tools to meet the needs of a growing number of tech-savvy beneficiaries. But you don’t need a computer to get information on your Medicare benefits.
If you have any questions, you can always call Medicare’s toll-free number, 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). Customer service representatives are available 24/7.
There’s also the “Medicare & You” handbook, mailed to every Medicare household in the country each fall. The handbook is available online at https://www.medicare.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/10050-medicare-and-you.pdf.
And let me also recommend the excellent, free counseling you can get from your State Health Insurance Assistance Program, or SHIP.
SHIP is an independent, nonprofit organization that provides personalized counseling to people with Medicare. You can make an appointment to speak with a SHIP counselor in-person or over the phone.
SHIP counselors are well-trained volunteers who often are enrolled in Medicare themselves, so they know the ropes. They can help you sort through different health and drug plans and help find one that’s right for you. They’re not trying to sell you any particular product.
To contact your local SHIP office, go to Shiptacenter.org. (In California, the program is called the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program, or HICAP.)
If you enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan this fall but you’re not satisfied with it, you can switch plans or return to Original Medicare between Jan. 1 and March 31, 2020. If you return to Original Medicare, you can also buy a Medicare prescription drug plan (Part D) during this period.
Having trouble paying for your prescription drug plan (Part D)? You may be eligible for the Extra Help program, which helps cover your premiums, deductibles, and co-pays. Medicare beneficiaries typically save $4,900 annually with Extra Help.
For more information, go to SSA.gov/prescriptionhelp.
Greg Dill is Medicare’s regional administrator for Arizona, California, Nevada, Hawaii, and the Pacific Territories. You can always get answers to your Medicare questions by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).
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