Open enrollment for Medicare part D is under way, and McPherson County residents who participate, or who are thinking of signing up, should be aware of several changes to the program.
Enrollment will run through the end of December, and officials involved in the Medicare program encourage using this time to examine the coverage they have.
“It’s a time when beneficiaries can do a coverage checkup and make changes for the year ahead,” said Center for Medicare Services (CMS) Administrator Dr. Don Berwick. “Know what is important, and consider any changes in your health.”
Berwick encouraged those who use the program to examine the new Medicare handbook, available online at www.medicare.gov, and to use caution as fraud is possible. Among the steps CMS advises are to protect your Medicare ID number, be cautious with providers offering “too good to be true” services and looking at your benefit statement to make sure charged services were actually received. Participants can register complaints at www.stopmedicarefraud.gov.
Locally, Director of the McPherson Council on Aging Linda Skiles-Hadduck offered several tips for enrolling in Medicare part D.
“I would advise everyone who has a plan to review it, because many thing will change,” said Skiles-Hadduck. “As of Jan. 1, 2011, some deductibles and premiums will go up. You don’t want to be surprised. Make sure you have the coverage you think you have.”
Skiles-Hadduck said that if participants do research ahead of time, the enrollment process goes much smoother, but they’re available to help.
One of the major changes participants need to be aware of is changes to the Part D coverage, which covers prescriptions.
“One of the things a lot of people don’t know is there’s a penalty for not enrolling (in Part D), but the penalty doesn’t kick in until you do enroll,” said Skiles-Hadduck.
An example that was offered is if a participant was on Medicare two years ago without a drug plan, and this year they want to enroll, the penalty is 1 percent of the average of all drug plans per-month, which now is around 30 cents. The penalty is permanent as well, which can add up, as two years (or 24 months) worth of penalties can raise your premium by over $7 a month, perpetually.  However, the cheapest Part D plans run between $15 and $18 a month.
“We recommend even if you’re on little to no meds to get on the cheapest plan,” said Skiles-Hadduck, adding that there is no penalty for changing plans.
Another change in Part D coverage is the closing of the so-called “doughnut hole” in prescription drug coverage. In 2011 once a participant accrues $2,840 in drug costs, they will be cut off from prescription drug benefits until that cost reaches $4,550, then it shifts to 100% coverage.  In 2010, in an effort to begin closing that gap, those that fell into it received a rebate of $250. In 2011, those in that gap will receive a 50 percent discount on name-brand drugs and a 7 percent discount on generic drugs. Officials hope to have the gap completely closed by 2020.
There are also programs through Social and Rehabilitative Services (SRS) for those with low income and resources, that could help with premiums and co-pays not only in Part D, but possibly Part B as well.
“If you think you might be eligible, you can apply,” said Skiles-Hadduck. “That’s something we can help with.”
It is advised that this be done before one signs up for a drug plan, and decisions on this are made through SRS.
For more information, participants, or potential participants, can consult with Senior Health Insurance Counseling for Kansas (SHICK) counselors. At the McPherson County Council on Aging and the McPherson Senior Center, Lori Hager-Johnson and Sondra Frank are available, along with Jana McKinney at the K-State County Extension Office. Help is also available at the SHICK Hotline, 1-800-860-5260.