Oct. 17--The annual open enrollment for Medicare Advantage plans opened earlier this week, and the West Virginia State Health Insurance Assistance Program is advising all seniors to take a second look at their existing plans.
Marcia Meeks, director of WV SHIP, said although Medicare Advantage providers are required to notify customers of any changes in the policy, changes sometimes can still slip by unnoticed. Year-to-year, Advantage plans often change their premiums, co-pays and the list of prescriptions covered under the plan.
"Even if they're happy with their plan, I strongly encourage them to look at it every year," she said.
Information about Medicare Advantage plans can be found at www.medicare.gov, but WV SHIP provides free and confidential counseling to help seniors sort through the often-confusing process of picking a Medicare Advantage plan.
Meeks said seniors can receive assistance over the phone or in person. SHIP has counselors located around the state. Though it's best to call and make an appointment, walk-ins are also welcome.
Seniors need only bring their Medicare card and a list of current medications. SHIP counselors do the rest, looking at each of the available plans and helping customers decide which would best suit their individual needs.
Medicare recipients must make the final decision on whether to switch plans, but SHIP counselors only help them make more informed decisions.
"One plan may not be appropriate for both a husband and wife," she said.
Meeks said she recently helped a man save $1,200 on his yearly premiums while keeping the same level of insurance, just by switching plans.
"They want someone to talk to them in their language. It can be confusing. We're just giving them all their options," she said.
The open enrollment period closes at midnight on Dec. 7. Once that deadline passes, patients are locked into their chosen Medicare Advantage plan until enrollment reopens next year.
Medicare-eligible seniors have several options for medical coverage. They could opt for a traditional Medicare plan, but it does not cover some medical services like vision and dental, durable medical equipment or lab tests.
Medicare recipients can purchase Medigap policies as a supplement to a traditional Medicare plan, helping to lower deductibles and provide some additional coverage.
Individuals can purchase Medicare Advantage plans, which are managed by private health insurance companies, to replace a traditional Medicare plan. Like other private health insurance plans, each Medicare Advantage plan comes with its own set of premiums and co-pays as well as a list of covered services and approved doctors and hospitals.
Meeks said SHIP counselors go over each option with customers to help decide which plan is best for them.
"A lot of people don't know we're here. There's someone here who can sit down and go through their options," she said.
To contact WV SHIP, call 1-877-987-3646 or 304-558-3317. The Charleston office is located on the third floor of the Charleston Town Center Mall.
Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.
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