Alexandria, VA (October 3, 2011) Don't make the mistake of underestimating what you will need for Medicare, warns The Senior Citizens League (TSCL), one of the nation's largest nonpartisan seniors groups. "Medicare costs frequently take people completely by surprise," says TSCL Chairman Larry Hyland. "There's a lot that Medicare doesn't cover, and most people pay multiple premiums in addition to other out-of-pocket expenses every month, " Hyland says. "On top of that, Social Security benefits grow much more slowly than Medicare costs," he notes.
For people with average benefits, Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket costs currently take about one-third or more of Social Security income, but the portion of Social Security spent on healthcare grows as people age. And looming on the horizon is the likelihood that Congress will soon consider major changes to Medicare that would make beneficiaries pay an even bigger share of the cost of their benefits in the future.
TSCL is conducting an online survey of healthcare costs experienced by Medicare beneficiaries, and invites seniors and 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 all, while ensuring program financing remains sound for the future.
What's one of the most important steps that seniors can take to keep Medicare costs in line?
TSCL Medicare policy analyst Mary Johnson says, "If you have Medicare there's a very good chance that you're enrolled in the wrong health and drug plan and spending far more out-of-pocket than you need to. Compare your Medicare health plan and drug coverage EVERY single year and be prepared to switch plans during the fall Open Enrollment period when you find better coverage," she advises.
Insurers make major changes in their plans every year, like increasing premiums, co-pays or even dropping the coverage. 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. Johnson, who has assisted seniors to compare and enroll in plans since the start of Part D, says "the cost differences between plans can be huge."
For example, seniors in Johnson's area of Central Virginia who take Singulair, an expensive brand name asthma drug that has no generic, can choose from Part D drug plans that range in annual cost from $804 to $2,152 (including premiums and drug co-pays). Medicare Advantage plans, which cover the drug and also include basic hospital and medical coverage, range in cost from $2,208 to $4,493 per year.
With Medicare's annual Open Enrollment period starting earlier this year on October 15, and ending December 7, 2011, it's time for seniors to find out what their choices are and how much they could save with a new Part D or Medicare Advantage plan. "Figuring this out isn't easy for most seniors or family members who try to help them - in fact it often makes me weep - but it saves so much it's worth the aggravation," Johnson notes. "Start with full unbiased information about your coverage choices," Johnson says. "Don't expect to learn that from someone who makes a commission from selling insurance," she adds.
Seniors should visit the Medicare website at www.medicare.gov and use the Compare Drug and Health Plan tools. The tools allow seniors to learn about plans in their area, and compare coverage and costs based on drugs they currently use. "If you don't have computer access, or feel frustrated with the process or just plain overwhelmed, call and 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 call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116.
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.