Q: What should I be doing regarding my Medicare and the Health Care Reform and the Affordable Care Act? Where do I find out about changes to Medicare because of health care reform?
A: This is probably my most popular question right now. Clearly this insurance change is on our minds. It is on our minds because almost every hour (maybe every minute) there is something in the media regarding this topic. We citizens are being barraged with information and misinformation about the Affordable Care Act.
I will address this question as best I can. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) makes many changes to the health insurance industry and marketplace. The ACA will begin requiring all citizens to have health insurance from some source.
FOR THOSE OF YOU WITH MEDICARE
For those of you with Medicare, you already have health insurance: Medicare. The health insurance marketplace plans are not insurance that you will be allowed to buy. If you have Medicare the new insurance marketplace is not for you. When you evaluate your insurance options be sure you are reviewing Medicare plans, not marketplace plans.
The marketplace changes beginning this fall and into 2014 will offer an opportunity for everyone else to have health insurance regardless of where they work or how much they money they earn.
The confusion begins with the fact that these new changes coincide with the annual open enrollment period that those of us with Medicare have dealt with for the last seven years. That annual open enrollment period is from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. This is the period of time that everyone with Medicare is allowed to make changes to their coverage choices.
The health care reform marketplace enrollment will begin at roughly this same time. The heath insurance marketplace opens Oct. 1, 2013, and goes until March 31, 2014. This is the time when those without insurance (not on Medicare) can evaluate the policies available to them and their costs. After this evaluation process individuals and families can enroll in an insurance product that works for them and their situation. This insurance product will be purchased from the Marketplace and is not tied to an employer plan or other group. Our group is those that live in Chautauqua County. If you move, you can choose from a product available to you in your new home.
Each state and county has marketplace navigators. These navigators are agencies that have contracted with the government to provide information and access to the tools to help you choose the plan that is best for your family. Watch for information, articles and advertisements to see who the marketplace navigators are in your region.
Now, back to your original question: What should you be doing regarding your Medicare health insurance? I would advise you, as I have for the last seven years, to use the annual open enrollment period to evaluate your current insurance and decide if you have a product that is going to work for you in 2014 or if you need to switch your insurance choices to a product that fits your 2014 need better than your current plan. The period of time to do that is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 every year. The new plans are publicly announced Oct. 1, but your current insurance company may mail you this information sooner than that.
Review the information that is mailed to you from your current plan, and compare that to what other companies are offering. Some of those companies will be mailing information to you and offer meetings and seminars to review their products. You also have access to the www.medicare.gov website where information about all the plans available in your region. You can also call 1-800-medicare (633-4227) and talk with the customer service staff at Medicare about the products available to you in your region. The website and the 1-800 number is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So don't call Monday morning at 9 a.m., call at 6 a.m., or 3 a.m. or 9 p.m., whatever is a convenient time of day for you to sit with few distractions and look at or listen to the information provided to you.
Then I would advise you to encourage your family and friends without Medicare to get out and do some research on the products that are available to them.
Everyone should have the opportunity to purchase good and useful health Insurance. It is my hope that this Affordable Care Act will now make this opportunity a reality.