By JoAnn Callender (pictured) and Cedar Dvorin
During Medicare’s open enrollment period, which runs from October 15 until December 7, Alexandria Medicare insurance counselors will host open enrollment events to help residents with Medicare Part D prescription drug plans ensure they have the least expensive plan that covers their medications.
Many people say, “I think I have a good plan.” But not reviewing your plan could cost you. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, most Medicare Part D beneficiaries will pay higher premiums in 2017 if they do not switch their plans.
Everyone with a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan should review their options during this period to make sure their current plan continues to meet their needs.
Each year, the monthly amount you pay for your plan — the premium — and the cost of each prescription may increase or decrease. Plans also can change the drugs covered — the formulary — and the amount of the annual deductible, which is the amount you must pay before your prescription drug plan kicks in. In addition, new plans may be added for next year, and your plan may no longer be offered.
This year, Alexandrians can pick from 23 plans. The premiums range from $17 to $151.50 per month. Ten plans have the maximum deductible of $400, while nine plans have no deductibles. In addition, UnitedHealthCare and AARP are offering a new Medicare Advantage plan in the Alexandria area.
Here are some tips to help you choose the best plan for your needs:
Read the Annual Notice of Change letter sent by Medicare. This contains important information about changes in your benefits.
Make sure the plan you choose covers all of your prescriptions in the dos- age recommended by your doctor.
Check to see if the plan requires “step therapy” — starting with a similar but less expensive drug — or “prior authorization” — a form your doctor must submit before the plan will cover the medication.
When choosing a plan, make sure the pharmacy you use is in your net- work. If it is not, you may pay more for your prescriptions. And look at the cost to receive your medications by mail. This sometimes can result in significant savings.
After you do your research, call the plan to confirm what you have learned. Keep a record of the conversation, including, the date, time and the phone number you called from and the name of the plan representative with whom you spoke.
Here are three ways to learn about your options:
Free, unbiased and confidential assistance in Alexandria is available at the city division of aging and adult services. Visit www.alexandriava.org/aging or call 703-746-5999 and ask for the Virginia Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program — or VICAP — counselor.
Use Medicare’s Plan Finder at: www.medicare.gov. Select the green tab on the upper left side called “Find Health and Drug Plans.”
Or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1- 800-633-4227). TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048. Help is available in many languages.
Open Enrollment is an excellent time to check your Medicare summary notices and the Part D explanations of benefits, to help prevent Medicare fraud and abuse. If you see charges for some- thing you did not receive, contact Senior Medicare Patrol at 1-800-938-8885.
VICAP is a free program offering individualized counseling to help with a wide range of insurance related issues such as understanding Medicare and Medicaid Benefits. The Alexandria VICAP program is managed by the city division of aging and adult services.
The writers are counselors for the city division of aging and adult services’ VICAP program.