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10 tips for seniors choosing a Medicare program

Agriculture.com Staff 11/15/2006 @ 2:52pm

The 2007 Medicare enrollment period is now underway, and in order to receive Medicare prescription drug coverage in 2007, seniors must choose their program within six weeks, as opposed to the six-month enrollment period for 2006 coverage.

If seniors do not choose a plan by December 31, 2006, they are at risk of losing Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage for all of 2007 or risk being re-enrolled in a plan that does not cover medically necessary drugs.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), is urging Medicare beneficiaries to sign up for a plan by December 8, 2006, to ensure they begin receiving drug coverage on January 1, 2007, with no gap in coverage.

As part of an ongoing effort to make the process of choosing a Medicare plans simpler and more straight-forward, enrollment service Senior Educators has released ten tips for choosing a Medicare health or drug plan. These tips are designed to help seniors and their families narrow the field of choices by helping them understanding of their specific needs.

Calculate your healthcare costs. Try to figure out how much you paid for medications, hospital bills, doctor visits and other health costs this year.

Write it down. Make a list of your doctors and drugs as you consider your options.

Confirm your coverage. Make sure your doctors and drugs are covered by the plans you are considering.

Do your homework. Consider an insurance company's financial security, customer service and reputation before signing up.

Consider different options. New Medicare insurance plans often include health and drug insurance for little or no premium beyond Medicare.

Be realistic. Don't leave a Medigap or supplemental insurance plan for a $0 premium plan if you expect to be frequently hospitalized.

Be a smart shopper. Compare plans from a variety of companies or use a service that can help make that comparison for you.

Don't believe everything you hear. Be cautious about signing up for a plan at a seminar that sells only one company's plans.

Read the fine print. Always review potential plans' "Summary of Benefits".

Get expert advice. Use appropriate independent resources to help you assess how competing insurance plans may or may not meet your needs.

Nationally, the number of Medicare Advantage plans available to beneficiaries at the county level has almost doubled from 33,760 plans in 2006 to 66,510 in 2007. The numbers of choices for standalone Medicare Part D drug plans have also increased in every state. Many health providers have also altered the structures of their service, co-pays and drugs that covered in their formularies.

"Seniors who are planning on staying in their current plans without looking into the details could be in for a big surprise in 2007 due to changes in plan structures and formularies," said Brian Poger of Senior Educators. "It's very important this year to shop around between plans, because the plan you signed up for last year may not be the best plan for you in 2007."

Another important change in Medicare for 2007 is the $40 increase in the Medicare Part A deductible, an insurance that covers hospital visits. The monthly premiums for Medicare Part B doctor's insurance have not risen significantly in 2007 for the average beneficiary, in part, because this year Medicare began the process of "means testing" for monthly premiums, which will result in increased premiums for high-income beneficiaries compared other members.

Senior Educators provides unbiased guidance and free enrollment services to Medicare recipients. To obtain free advice from one of the group's licensed representatives, all 800/505-8515 between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, or between 8:00 a.m. and Noon on Saturdays. Learn more at www.senioreducators.org.

The 2007 Medicare enrollment period is now underway, and in order to receive Medicare prescription drug coverage in 2007, seniors must choose their program within six weeks, as opposed to the six-month enrollment period for 2006 coverage.

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