Alexandria, VA (October 18, 2011) Irene H., a senior living in Central Virginia, will achieve a milestone this fall that few other 86-year olds can boast of. The thrifty senior, who takes three prescription medications every day, including an expensive brand-name eye drop for glaucoma, will cut her prescription drug costs by more than $3,000 since 2006. Her secret? Every year during the fall Medicare Open Enrollment period, Irene learns about the changes in her drug plan for the upcoming year, and then compares all her options for drug coverage. She changes plans when she finds better coverage at a better cost.
Irene is the first to say she wouldn't know where to begin when it comes to figuring out the best deal for her drug coverage. To accomplish this she gets unbiased advice and counseling. Her neighbor, Mary Johnson, is a Medicare policy analyst for The Senior Citizens League (TSCL). Johnson, who has assisted seniors to compare and enroll in plans since the start of Part D in 2006, says "the cost differences between plans can be huge - Irene saved about $1,276 in 2011 alone."
"Unfortunately for seniors and their families these extreme differences in cost are not unique," says Johnson. "Almost every Medicare beneficiary enrolled in a Part D drug or Medicare health plan can achieve savings if they carefully compare all their options every year and switch when they find better coverage," Johnson says. "All that's required is computer access, the Medicare Drug and Health Plan Compare tools on the Medicare website at www.medicare.gov and determination to give it a try," she notes.
Insurers make major changes in their plans every year, like increasing premiums, co-pays, dropping coverage and even closing plans altogether. But according to a survey conducted by TSCL earlier this year, less than 18 percent of respondents said they switched their Part D or Medicare Advantage health plan for 2011. Medicare's annual Open Enrollment period starts earlier this year -- on October 15th -- and ends December 7th. Medicare beneficiaries should start the process now to find out what their choices are and how much they could save with a new Part D or Medicare Advantage plan.
"Sorting this out isn't easy for most seniors or family members who try to help them," Johnson admits. "Medicare Part D can befuddle all of us," Johnson says. "But comparing plans saves so much -- where else are you going to get this sort of return for your time?" Johnson wryly notes. "Just do it. If you don't have computer access, or just are not sure how to start, get the help of a Medicare benefits counselor from your State Health Insurance Program (SHIP), " Johnson urges. Many of the programs operate through local Area Agencies on Aging or you can call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116, or call Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).
The Senior Citizens League is conducting an online survey of healthcare costs experienced by Medicare beneficiaries and invites seniors and the disabled with Medicare to participate at www.seniorsleague.org. The information will be used to educate both lawmakers in Congress and the public about the financial challenges of keeping Medicare affordable for beneficiaries while ensuring program financing remains sound for the future. To learn more about changes to Medicare, get tips on reducing your Medicare costs and to participate in TSCL's new online Medicare healthcare cost survey visit: www.seniorsleague.org.