Seniors: Navigating Medicare changes

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By Nelva Hernandez

The Medicare federal health insurance program serves 60 million people who are 65 or older, some younger people with disabilities and people with end stage renal disease. More than 17,000 Alexandria residents receive health insurance coverage from Medicare.

Like other insurance companies, Medicare has open enrollment periods where beneficiaries can add or change coverage and review changes to their insurance coverage benefits. Open enrollment for Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage and Medicare Advantage Plans is from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. Changes will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

Medicare is encouraging all recipients to establish a MyMedicare account on theMedicare.gov site. This will be a central location for Medicare recipients to view claims and current benefits, and make changes to their Medicare coverage.

Beneficiaries will see changes to their Medigap plan options. Medigap plans are sold by private insurance companies and cover the 20 percent of physicians’ costs patients are responsible for paying. Medigap plans offer standardized coverage but plan costs vary depending on the insurance company, so beneficiaries should compare prices to ensure they are receiving the lowest price.

Some new Medicare beneficiaries will have the option of choosing from eight Medigap plans instead of 10. Medicare Plan C and Plan F will only enroll beneficiaries who are Medicare eligible before Dec. 31. If you already have either of these two plans, you will be able to keep your plan and coverage.

This year there are 29 Medicare drug prescription plans available to Alexandria residents with premiums ranging from $13.20 to $151.60. Beneficiaries can see all the plan choices for their zip code by using the personalized search plan finder tool at Medicare.gov.

Medicare beneficiaries often fail to look for the most affordable coverage. Plans often change the medications they cover, the cost of the drugs covered and the price of the premium. Medicare beneficiaries need to check every year to ensure their medications are still covered by their plan and that plan costs remain affordable.

Scammers often target Medicare beneficiaries, and victims may have coverage denied or benefits delayed. To prevent fraud, Medicare beneficiaries should carefully check their statements to ensure it accurately lists services used. Beneficiaries should also keep their Medicare card secure and keep careful records of conversations with plan representatives including representative names, the dates of the call and the information received.

Alexandria Medicare beneficiaries may be unaware of the changes or may receive incomplete information from insurance company representatives. The Virginia Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program offers free individualized counseling to help residents make sense of the changes and select the plan that best meets their needs.

Residents can also receive a personalized benefits checkup from the VICAP program at the Division of Aging and Adult Services or by attending the Medicare Benefits Checkup workshop on Nov. 16 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. or Nov. 18 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Call 703-746-5999 for registration information or learn how to do your own benefits checkup at www.alexandriava.gov/aging.

Nelva Hernandez is the VICAP coordinator at the city’s Division of Aging and Adult Services.

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