How To Handle The Beginning Of ‘Insurance Season’

QUESTION: I have seen ads in the paper, and mail in my mailbox about insurance options. How do I research my insurance alternatives? There is so much information, but I don’t know how to understand it.

ANSWER: Welcome to Insurance Season.

As you know it is my favorite time of year. Excitement is everywhere, well at least for some of us. I do understand your confusion and there is help available to you from a variety of sources.

The Annual Open Enrollment Period begins Oct. 15 and goes until Dec. 7 every year. This is the period when you can switch your Medicare insurance products to something different. That new plan will be effective Jan. 1, 2019. The insurance companies begin mailing out material the end of September, all the way through December. It is confusing, trying to sort it all out.

There are a lot of ways to learn about the products available to you. The first resource I would recommend is the website, www.medicare.gov. This is the website the Centers for Medicare and 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 the Medicare Helpline at 1-800-medicare (800-633-4227) to ask questions. 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 contact the 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 or NYConnects at 753-4582.

Insurance brokers or agents can also illustrate the products they represent, and how those products work for you. Many of the insurance companies have information they can send to you, or presentations you can attend. All of the insurance companies have websites where you can learn about their products as well. In using the websites, be sure you are looking at product information for your region. Insurance options vary in difference parts of the country and different counties.

Senior Life Matters staff is also available to provide this one on one counseling. Our staff will be giving a number of free talks the second week of October. These three free events will be to explain and help people understand Medicare and some of the changes for 2019. For more information on this program or to make reservations call 720-9122.

The talks will be held at three different times; On Tuesday, Oct. 9 at 1:30 p.m., and at 5:30 p.m., and on Wednesday, Oct. 10 at 3:30 p.m. Each talk will cover the same information, so you only need to attend one time. We are offering three different times, to accommodate different schedules and the smaller venue.

We have been doing these talks for a number of years, but this year it is a little different, and the difference is in the location. Due to construction on the Lutheran campus, we are holding the talks at the Katharine Jackson Carnahan Center, at Jamestown Community College. Remember that space is limited and you must make a reservation by calling 720-9122.

The confusion you are experiencing in looking at insurance options, is often sorting through the different options and the language used with those products. In reviewing your insurance options, be sure you understand what coverage 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 your region? Can you get mail order medication, or just at the local pharmacy? Which pharmacies give you the lowest possible cost?

There are lots of questions, and the answers are out there. You just need to know where to look and what to ask. Good luck and Happy Insurance season.

To contact Janell Sluga, GCMC with questions or concerns, please call 720-9797 or e-mail her at janells@lutheran-jamestown.org.