It's time to review your Medicare coverage
by Janet Ikenberry
Fall has arrived, and you know what that means: cooler temperatures, beautiful leaves, football games and – for folks 65 and older -- the annual Medicare open enrollment period.
Like the changing foliage, you don’t want to miss the chance to review your Medicare prescription drug coverage. From October 15 to December 7 each year, Medicare beneficiaries have the opportunity to switch to a different Medicare prescription drug plan.
This is a crucial step in managing your prescription costs. You may be perfectly content with your current plan, but if you don’t do your homework, you could be unpleasantly surprised when you pick up medications after January 1. Prescription drug plans can change drastically from year to year. Formularies – another word for the lists of drugs that insurance plans cover -- are different. Just because your medication is available and affordable on your current plan this year does not mean it will be next year.
A total of 26 Medicare prescription drug plans are available in Douglas County in 2019. How do you choose the best one for you? At the Senior Resource Center for Douglas County, we have a program to help. The Senior Health Insurance Counseling for Kansas program – or SHICK – offers trained and certified volunteer counselors overseen by the SRC staff who can help you compare plans, understand your options and get you enrolled. You may schedule an appointment by calling the SHICK appointment line, 785-727-7872. Leave your name and contact number, and our scheduler will call you back with available appointment times. Once your appointment is set, you’ll need to do a little preparation.
Here’s what to bring to your appointment:
- Your red, white and blue Medicare card. Everyone should have received a new Medicare Card this year with a new Medicare number that is unique and randomly generated to help protect you against fraud and identity theft. If you have not received your new card, call Medicare at 800-633-4227 to let them know. You will be able to use your old card for a while longer, but don’t wait to make this call.
- A complete list of your medications, including the name of the drug, the strength of drug and how often you take it. If you visited us last year and have your printout with your “drug list ID number,” bring that too.
A SHICK volunteer will enter your information into the Plan Finder Tool on the medicare.gov website. The Plan Finder allows you to make a side-by-side comparison of the best and most affordable options based on your medications and pharmacy preference.
Because the medicare.gov website and the Plan Finder Tool are user-friendly and designed so Medicare beneficiaries can easily access important information, you might be able to do this yourself. However, SHICK volunteers are trained to help people who aren’t computer savvy, who don’t have computer access, or who have questions and want help understanding the information. During your appointment, your SHICK counselor also will do a quick screening to see if you may qualify for Extra Help, a Medicare program that helps with prescription drug costs for people whose income and resources are limited.
We encourage everyone with a Medicare prescription drug plan to review coverage during the annual open enrollment period. Even if you don’t take any medications, you might find a plan with a lower monthly premium. For people who are on Medicare but have never had a Medicare prescription drug plan, this enrollment period also gives you the opportunity to sign up.
A penalty will be assessed and added to your monthly premium for signing up after you’re first eligible, so don’t wait. According to the “Medicare & You” handbook, that penalty “is calculated by multiplying 1 percent of the ‘national base beneficiary premium’ ($35.02 in 2018) by the number of full, uncovered months that you were eligible but didn’t join a Medicare drug plan and went without other creditable prescription drug coverage.” This penalty has to be paid every month for the rest of your life.
Janet Ikenberry, who is the director of health and human services at the Senior Resource Center for Douglas County, can be reached at 785-842-0543 or jikenberry@YourSRC.org.
Help is available
Douglas County residents who are eligible for a Medicare prescription drug plan have 26 to choose from during this year’s open enrollment period, which is October 15 to December 7. It’s important to review your drug plans because they don’t necessarily remain the same, year to year. Counselors with the Senior Health Insurance Counseling for Kansas program – commonly referred to as SHICK – can help you compare plans, understand your options and get you enrolled. To make an appointment, call 785-727-7872.