Q: How do I research my insurance alternatives? I know open enrollment is right about now, but where do I get unbiased information?
A: Great question. I will give you some resources you can use to help you make your insurance decisions.
The annual open enrollment period begins Oct. 15 and goes until Dec. 7. This is the period when you can switch your Medicare insurance products to something different that will be effective Jan. 1. The first resource I would recommend is the website, www.medicare.gov. This is the website the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) designed to help everyone with Medicare. This website has lots of useful information about Medicare, not just Part D. You can research your physicians, your hospitals, your coverage and the prescription drug plans available to you in your area. There is an e-version of the "Medicare & You Handbook" there as well. This is one of my favorite and most used websites.
You can also call 1-800-medicare to ask questions (1-800-633-4227). This is a 24-hour, seven days a week call center that can answer all your questions about Medicare and your coverage. This call center is another useful tool to finding out the answers to many of your Medicare-related questions.
You can also refer to some of the many State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) counselors. In New York state, we call these counselors HIICAP (Health Insurance Information Counseling Assistance Program) counselors. These HIICAP-trained individuals have unbiased information about all your insurance options. You can reach a HIICAP counselor by calling your local Office for the Aging.
On Wednesday, Oct. 23, Amie Libby and I will be giving a free training to help people maneuver the web and www.medicare.gov. Amie Libby is a service coordinator who works for Lutheran Senior Housing. She and I will be giving this free training to anyone who wants to better understand and interpret the data available on the Internet related to all topics Medicare. For more information on this program or to make reservations call 720-9122.
Many of the insurance companies have information they can send to you, or presentations you can attend. These are lots of ways to learn about the products available to you. The confusion is often sorting through the different options and the language used with those products. In reviewing your insurance options, be sure you understand what the coverage is you are getting. Does it cover just your medications, or is it a plan that covers your hospital stays and doctor visits also? Can it be used when you travel outside of our region? Can you get mail-order medication, or just at the local pharmacy?
There are lots of questions, and answers out there. You just need to know where to look and what to ask. Good luck and happy insurance season.