Experts worry some will miss deadline
By B.C. Manion
An earlier deadline for enrolling in Medicare plans could result in people missing out, experts say.
This year’s Medicare annual enrollment dates are from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. That means the enrollment period is beginning a full month earlier than it did last year and ending three weeks earlier.
Volunteers who help people navigate the bureaucratic maze of Medicare say they’re concerned that people who are not paying attention will try to enroll too late.
That’s why they’re putting an emphasis on outreach programs – to get the word out and to provide assistance, said Randy Caldwell of Land O’ Lakes, who volunteers for the Serving Health Insurance Needs for the Elderly (SHINE) program.
“People just don’t understand the bureaucracy. It can be intimidating and confusing,” Caldwell said. “The need is so great,” he said, and they don’t always realize that help is available.
That’s where SHINE volunteers come in.
“We’re available. We have outreach programs with churches, social organizations,” Caldwell said. They also can provide one-on-one assistance.
SHINE volunteers realize it can be difficult and confusing to enroll in Medicare plans, to keep up with changes and to compare plans that are available, said Jan Rauer of Lutz, a volunteer who trains SHINE volunteers.
When helping people navigate the system, SHINE volunteers focus on helping people find plans that are suitable for their needs by presenting various options and explaining the differences.
The idea is to present information, not to advocate particular plans, Caldwell said.
To prepare for the enrollment period, individuals should ask themselves:
–Have your health needs changed?
–Are your drugs covered by the plan you are considering?
–Does your doctor accept the plan you are considering?
–Does your plan fit your budget? Be sure to compare all costs, including premiums, copays, deductibles and coinsurance.
Those who are approaching age 65 should also be aware that enrollment in Medicare is not automatic, Rauer said. There is a seven-month period for initial enrollment into Medicare, she said. That includes the three months before an individual turns 65, the month of the individual’s birthday and the three months following it.
Additional information, individual appointments and requests for public speakers can be made by contacting the local Area on Aging office at (800) 963-5337.
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