Medicare open enrollment period began on Saturday, making it time for seniors covered by the federal plan to review their options.he enrollment period began earlier this year to give Medicare recipients seven weeks to make their choices.
Those options include selecting traditional Medicare or a Medicare Advantage plan that is operated by a private company and usually has benefits similar to an HMO or PPO.
Recipients also can opt for a Medicare supplement if they stick with traditional Medicare as well as a prescription drug plan.
The choices are numerous and can be overwhelming. But experts say there are a range of resources to help seniors select the plan that best fits their financial and medical needs. Among those who will need to closely study the options are the 96,000 Georgians who will turn 65 this year and become eligible to join the plan, according to AARP Georgia.
People covered by Medicare will have until December 7 to select their health care and prescription drug plans.
“I would recommend that they go to trusted sites like medicare.gov to get information on what this year’s rules of the road are,” said Dr. William Hauser, Humana’s regional senior products medical director in Atlanta.
Medicare.gov has a wealth of information — including explanations of the types of plans available. Consumers can type in their ZIP code and see detailed descriptions of plans available for their area — as well as quality ratings broken down for each plan. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services uses data to rate the plans and this year will identify 5-star plans with a special gold icon to help consumers find these plans easily.
The site also can help consumers compare plans based on the prescriptions they know they will need during the year.
Consumers should realize that traditional Medicare is basic coverage that comes with co-pays and deductibles and does not cover prescriptions. Many seniors on traditional Medicare also select a supplemental plan to cover out-of-pocket expenses and a prescription plan for drugs.
Medicare Advantage plans are varied but usually wrap lots of benefits under one plan. For some patients, that kind of coordinated plan can be helpful if they want assistance managing their illnesses, selecting a doctor or even help with a wellness program.
“Medicare Advantage is kind of one-stop shopping, so to speak, as far as medical care, prescription drug coverage and other options built in,” Hauser said.
Experts say consulting with your doctor can be helpful when deciding on a plan. They also warn consumers to be wary of door-to-door sales and aggressive pitches when it comes to selecting a plan.
“This is the time to evaluate your options and pick the plan that works best for you,” said Pamela Roshell, AARP’s Georgia state director. “Making a smart decision now can help you get the care you need in 2012.”