Open enrollment for people who have Medicare plans started this week. It's the time when all people with Medicare, the federal health insurance program for people 65 and older and the disabled, can change their private Medicare Advantage plan or prescription-drug coverage.
Health News Florida's Lottie Watts talked with Kathy Winans, the regional vice president for United Health Care Medicare plans, about this year's open enrollment, which runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7.
Lottie Watts: What does that mean for someone age 65 or older?
Kathy Winans: Well, it's the annual opportunity for them to make their plan election for 2014, so it's their one time, they get to look at their benefits, evaluate their health status and decide if they want to keep the plan they have or switch to another plan.
LW: When they do select a plan, whether they go with traditional Medicare or a Medicare Advantage plan (a type of plan offered by a private insurer that contracts with Medicare), they are covered, they have health insurance, they don't need anything else and they're good to go for 2014 as far as the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, is concerned?
KW: Absolutely, yes. A lot of people are confused right now. We have the healthcare exchanges for the individuals that are not on a Medicare beneficiary. Medicare is not impacted by the exchanges. We do have a separate open enrollment period and it's really important for them to take action and do their research now because they don't want to wait till that last week and rush and make probably a poor decision, so we encourage them to take action now.
LW: Seniors who are looking for some advice on this?
KW: There's many resources for seniors. If they're in a Medicare Advantage plan, they would have gotten an annual notice of change, and that tells them what upcoming changes they're seeing. If they're on original Medicare and want to shop for a Medicare Advantage plan, there's Medicare.gov. They can go on that website and they can look to see, by zip code, all the plans that are available for them. They can also call 1-800-MEDICARE. The government also offers a SHINE program (Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders), where volunteers are trained on what Medicare options are available in their service area and those people are also trained to educate them on what options are available.
LW: Do you have to do anything between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7 if you're happy with what you have?
KW: Well, it's always good to evaluate because you have to evaluate, in addition to the plan, have you yourself changed. Are you now on a prescription drug that you weren't on before? Do you want to travel a little bit more so you want a plan that has travel benefits so you can leave the service area up to nine months? Are you interested now in getting a fitness program and want to get more healthy and involved?
LW: What happens if Dec. 7 rolls around and you don't select your plan? What do you do then?
KW: The good news is you're always covered. Whether you're in a Medicare Advantage plan and miss the window of maybe looking at a different type of plan, or are in traditional Medicare and lost that window to look, you're just locked in for another year. But you're always covered. If you take no action, you're in the plan that you are today. So again, it's an opportunity that the government allows a Medicare beneficiary to make their final elections for next year