|Open enrollment for Medicare has begun, and participants have until Dec. 7 to make changes if they’re already enrolled in the program. Yet many seniors don’t realize that they should use this time to look at their existing plan and explore their options.Part of the confusion, say experts, stems from the many different choices that seniors have when they enroll.In Tampa, FL, Area Agencies on Aging are working with seniors to get them enrolled in the right plan. Patricia Henderson, community services coordinator for the Agency on Aging in West Central Florida, says that it’s crucial for seniors to check their plans each year.
“Medicare is a very individual process, to the point where spouses can have different plans,” Henderson says. “That is one of the biggest mistakes people make — assuming their neighbor’s plan will work for them.”
The agency’s goal is to have Medicare subscribers check their plans every year. “Because people change, and plans change,” Henderson explains.
Since 1965, when it was created as part of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, Medicare has helped cover seniors age 65 and older, in addition to those who are under 65 with certain disabilities and anyone with end-stage renal disease.
There are four parts to Medicare: Parts A, B, C and D.
Medicare Part A is hospital insurance that covers inpatient care in hospitals, skilled nursing facility care, hospice care, and home health care. Part B is medical insurance that covers services like doctors, outpatient care, home health care, medical equipment and some preventative services.
Part C, Medicare Advantage, is administered through private plans that receive government approval. Part D offers prescription drug coverage.
The plans that fall under Medicare Advantage must offer comparable coverage to Medicare Parts A and B, and many of these also offer prescription drug coverage that would otherwise be optional. Some seniors may find this more advantageous, but U.S. News and World Report says that above all, seniors should consider their own budgets, preferences, and medical needs before making a choice.
Additionally, the hospital care under Part A or through private plans is becoming increasingly important for seniors, many of whom are experience hampered mobility and serious risks as a result.
“Every year, people need to look at their current prescription plan; they need to look and see if that’s the plan that’s still best for them. During the open enrollment period is when people need to talk to a professional in order to understand Medicare Part D because it is important to determine whether or not they’re getting the best prices on an annual basis,” explains Jon Scott William, Executive Director for Senior Transition Guide.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that in 2012 alone, nearly 24,000 people over the age of 65 died after a fall — twice as many as a decade earlier and comprising the leading cause of injury-related death for seniors. That same year, more than 2.4 million seniors over 65 were treated in emergency care.
Seniors who may require hospital services or local care through Medicare may want to look into their coverage during open enrollment, say advisers.
Seniors are also encouraged to seek out local organizations that help with Medicare enrollment. This is especially important because of how “daunting” the amount of information out there is, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.