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Medicare open enrollment period lasts through Dec. 7

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Medicare beneficiaries are being encouraged to review their insurance coverage so they can switch plans, if needed, during open enrollment through Dec. 7.

Local Office for the Aging representatives said they’re ready to help eligible people enroll or answer questions about available plans. There are four types of plans for people 65 and older or disabled: Medicare Part A, hospital insurance; Medicare Part B, medical insurance; Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage), for all medical services, and Medicare Part D, prescription insurance.

There are also different insurance carriers for various Medicare plans.

“I’m so inundated; I’ve been booked for two months now,” said Nancy M. Green, health insurance information counseling assistant program coordinator at the St. Lawrence County Office for the Aging, Canton. “We’re basically the only agency that knows about Medicare in the county. People jokingly call me the Medicare Queen.”

Medicare Advantage plans, she said, tend to be less confusing since more services are covered in just one plan. Those plans are with private companies, such as Excellus BlueCross Blue Shield, that take over Medicare.

Medicare recipients, or those eligible for Medicare who have insurance through a spouse or other means, also may use Medicare supplement insurance, which, according to Medicare.gov, is “sold by private companies, can help pay some of the health care costs that original Medicare doesn’t cover, like co-payments, coinsurance and deductibles.”

Ms. Green stressed the importance of people particularly reviewing their Medicare Part D, as they “should be totally determined by medications you take and nothing else.” Sometimes, a more inexpensive plan might not cover all medications someone takes, she said.

Matt Wiley, Jefferson County Office for the Aging health insurance information, counseling and assistance program coordinator, said various Medicare plans have monthly premiums that range from nothing to about $400. Co-pays, or other costs, will vary.

“If you’re not happy with your insurance, call and talk to someone here,” he said. “This is the time to change.”

Christina M. Baker, Lewis County Office for the Aging coordinator of services, said that recently paid off for one Lewis County resident, who saved $4,000 by switching Medicare plans — that had the same coverage — after an appointment with one of the agency’s three certified counselors.

“It’s rewarding when you can save a senior citizen $4,000,” Mrs. Baker said.

While that doesn’t happen to every Medicare beneficiary, she said, reviewing Medicare coverage could lead to a more cost-effective plan for some.

“It does get very confusing for the seniors, but we try to get the best information to them,” Mrs. Baker said. “We work closely with our local Department of Social Services and pharmacies so seniors get the best they’re eligible for.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, expanded Medicare benefits under the federal Affordable Care Act remain available, including free preventive benefits, cancer screenings and an annual wellness checkup. Although those are offered because of the federal act, “Medicare is not part of the health insurance marketplace.”

Many carriers will host free seminars throughout the north country through the first week of December. Information on just some area seminars may be found by typing your ZIP code in while visiting www.hellounitedmedicare.com, or www.excellusmedicare.com/seminars.

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