By Nelva Hernandez
Medicare recipients are overloaded with information throughout the year but especially during the Medicare open enrollment period, which lasts from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, 2021. During this time, junk mailings increase alongside the bombardment of commercials about Medicare insurance plans promising vision, dental, transportation, meals and other benefits.
Some plans may offer these “supplemental” services, but be careful to read the fine print as you may not be eligible for these extra services.
Selecting or changing your Medicare health insurance plan in response to a tempting mail advertisement or commercial can be a costly decision. Once open enrollment ends on Dec. 15 and your new plan begins on Jan. 1, 2022, you may be locked into the plan until the next year’s open enrollment period. You may not be able to change plans even if your doctors do not participate in the plan, the plan does not meet your needs or it does not cover all your medications or covers them at a cost you cannot afford.
However, there are ways you can avoid falling into this trap or erroneously switching to a plan that seems promising. Carefully read all plan materials, look at the plan’s web site and call the provider behind the plan to verify how much the plan will cost and what it will cover. Be sure to ask your health care providers if they participate in the plan. Visit the Medicare website to enroll in a My Medicare account, and compare the costs of different plans that cover your medications.
If doing it yourself seems daunting, the Virginia Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program provides free, unbiased, individualized counseling to help residents understand and navigate the complex world of Medicare. VICAP counselors are available year-round. During open enrollment, counselors can do a benefits check up to assist in reviewing and comparing Medicare prescription plans to ensure you enroll in the plan that best meets your needs.
A benefit checkup consists of a VICAP counselor doing a personalized comparison to ensure your current plan meets your needs or identifying a new one that does. Counselors can also assist you in creating a My Medicare account, enrolling in the plan that best meets your needs and screening and applying for other money saving programs like Low Income Subsidy, also known as Extra Help, or Medicare savings programs.
Any changes made during the open enrollment period are effective Jan. 1, 2022. Beneficiaries can get started by completing a request online or by calling the city’s Division of Aging and Adult Services intake line at 703-746-5999.
Medicare beneficiaries are vulnerable to fraud during open enrollment, as scammers make false promises. During the pandemic, there has been an increase in COVID-19-related scams. To prevent fraud, check your Medicare summary notices, report any discrepancies and avoid giving your Medicare number to people you do not know. The Social Security Administration, Medicare and your doctor’s office will not request your Medicare number unless you initiated a call and get a call back from them. To report Medicare fraud or abuse, call Senior Medicare Patrol at 1-800- 938-8885.
If the Medicare process is too overwhelming and you’re unsure about the right plan for you, make sure to take advantage of VICAP. The VICAP for residents of the City of Alexandria is based in the Department of Community and Human Services, Division of Aging and Adult Services and is supported by certified volunteers. The writer is a family services specialist for the City of Alexandria’s Division of Aging and Adult Services in the Department of Community and Human Services.