Contributor

Diverse Elders Coalition

Attention Diverse Elders: Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period Starts Today!

Medicare’s Open Enrollment period is October 15 – December 7. This is when ALL people with Medicare can change their Medicare health plan and prescription drug coverage for 2014. You can find information on 2014 plans by visiting the Medicare Plan Finder. People with Medicare can call 1-800-MEDICARE or visit www.medicare.gov to learn all about Medicare. If a person is satisfied that their current plan will meet their needs for next year, they don’t need to do anything.

The Diverse Elders Coalition (DEC) knows well that large numbers of older people of color and LGBT elders nationwide face financial difficulties, making Medicare critically important to their health and economic well-being. Did you know? 46% of Latinos, 43% of Asians, 52% of African Americans over the age of 55 and 92% of American Indians and Alaska Natives are covered by Medicare (based on different studies); and according to a national health study of LGBT older people, almost all (97%) had some form of healthcare insurance coverage, primarily through Medicare. Without Medicare, many older people of color and LGBT elders would be required to pay for health expenses on their own, accrue enormous debts, and likely not receive the health care they need. The Affordable Care Act has further strengthened this vital program.

HOW DOES THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT AFFECT MEDICARE?

Your Medicare coverage is protected. Medicare isn’t part of the Health Insurance Marketplace established by ACA, so you don’t have to replace your Medicare coverage with Marketplace coverage. No matter how you get Medicare, whether through Original Medicare or a Medicare Advantage Plan, you’ll still have the same benefits and security you have now. You don’t need to do anything with the Marketplace during Open Enrollment.

The Medicare enrollment process has not changed. Medicare Advantage plans (such as Medicare HMOs and PPOs), Medicare Part D prescription drug plans, and Medigap policies are not sold through the new ACA Health Insurance Marketplace. You can get information on Medicare and enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan or a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan on the Medicare website or by signing up directly with the company that offers the plan.

You get more preventive services, for less. Medicare now covers certain preventive services, like mammograms or colonoscopies, without charging you for the Part B coinsurance or deductible. You also can get a free yearly “Wellness” visit.

You can save money on brand-name drugs. If you’re in the donut hole, you’ll also get a 50% discount when buying Part D-covered brand-name prescription drugs. The discount is applied automatically at the counter of your pharmacy—you don’t have to do anything to get it. The donut hole will be closed completely by 2020.

Your doctor gets more support. With new initiatives to support care coordination, your doctor may get additional resources to make sure that your treatments are consistent.

The ACA ensures the protection of Medicare for years to come. The life of the Medicare Trust fund will be extended to at least 2029—a 12-year extension due to reductions in waste, fraud and abuse, and Medicare costs, which will provide you with future savings on your premiums and coinsurance.

IF I AM ALREADY SIGNED UP FOR MEDICARE, SHOULD I DO ANYTHING DURING THE MEDICARE OPEN ENROLLMENT PERIOD?

Yes, this is your annual opportunity to review and update your Medicare health and prescription drug coverage options. Give your coverage an annual checkup to make sure your plans are most appropriate and cost effective. Only 28% of Part D enrollees switched plans between 2006 and 2010. A Kaiser Family Foundation study shows that those that switch have a better chance to reduce their premiums and out-of-pockets drug costs.

For certain communities, limited English proficiency can make it challenging to understand and to complete the enrollment process and to choose the most appropriate plans. For Asian Americans, the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging (NAPCA) has established a national, toll-free Asian language Helpline to ensure that Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Vietnamese speaking elders have language accessible assistance to understand and enroll in Medicare and the various Medicare Part D prescription drug plans. Medicare’s website also offers information in other languages.

So take advantage of Medicare Open Enrollment to review, update and improve your coverage!