Bargain-hunting season for Medicare prescription drug plans begins Monday.
In Kansas, there are more than 400,000 eligible shoppers, and they have until Dec. 7 to enroll in one of 31 plans or re-enroll in a different plan.
Criss Tomlin, a Senior Health Insurance Counseling for Kansas coordinator, said it’s important for eligible residents to check their policies because they change from year to year. Prices could change, as well as the drugs they cover.
“People often say, ‘I am pleased with the plan that I’ve got’ and I always try to make it clear to them that it could change Jan. 1,” Tomlin said. “Sometimes, they don’t check and, sure enough, in the middle of January, I will get a call from them saying their premium went up or their this and that. So, people should always check them — every year.”
In Kansas, the 2013 monthly premiums will range from $15 to $116.40.
Tomlin said that last year many people enrolled in the Humana Walmart plan because it had the lowest monthly premium at $15.10. It will be going up to $18.50 next year. AARP will be offering a plan that’s $15 per month. But Tomlin emphasized that the lowest price may not be the right option because it may not cover the drugs someone is taking.
Tomlin said some Douglas County beneficiaries saved about $1,500 last year by switching plans while others saved “a little.”
If you are eligible to enroll in a Medicare prescription drug plan but haven’t signed up yet, you might want to consider it because there is a penalty if you choose to do so later. The penalty is 1 percent of the average monthly premium for every month an individual wasn’t enrolled, but could have been. So, if a resident didn’t enroll in 2006 when the program was started and they could have, the penalty is $22 a month and it’s added to the premium.
“That’s every month forever. It doesn’t go away,” Tomlin said.
Individuals become eligible for Medicare at age 65, and then they have three months to sign up for a prescription drug plan, commonly called a Part D plan.
It’s also the enrollment period for Medicare Advantage plans, which is a replacement for the original Medicare plan, and most offer prescription drug coverage.
There will be trained SHICK volunteers available at the Lawrence Senior Center, 747 Vt., throughout the enrollment period to provide assistance free of charge. Eligible people need to take their Medicaid cards and a list of their prescriptions. They also should take an income statement because they could be eligible for additional financial help. To make an appointment, call the center at 842-0543.
WATCH FOR FRAUD
Meanwhile, Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger is warning seniors to be alert for potential scams surrounding the enrollment period for these Medicare programs.
“Unfortunately, not everyone who contacts Medicare-age Kansans about Medicare drug plan or Medicare Advantage plans has the best intentions,” she said. “Being smart and alert is very important in fighting potential fraud and illegal sales.”
Praeger offered these tips:
• Beware of door-to-door salespeople. Agents can’t solicit business for either Medicare Part D or Medicare Advantage Plans at your home without an appointment. Also, Medicare has no official sales representatives.
• Check with the Kansas Insurance Department to make sure the salesperson is a licensed agent. Call 800-432-2484 to speak with a consumer assistance representative.
• Federal regulations prohibit the marketing of Medicare products at an education event or in places where health care is delivered. They also prohibit offers of free meals for listening to a sale presentation for a Medicare product or signing up for a particular plan.
• Medicare beneficiaries are urged not to give out personal information, such as Social Security numbers, bank account numbers or credit card numbers to anyone not verified as a licensed agent. Salespeople are not allowed to request such personal information in their marketing activities and cannot ask for payment over the Internet.
• Verify the plan chosen is an approved Medicare plan by checking online at medicare.gov or by calling 800-633-4227.
Kansas Medicare beneficiaries can contact the Kansas Insurance Department Consumer Assistance Division for more information about Medicare Part D or Medicare Advantage plans at 800-432-2484.
The Senior Health Insurance Counseling for Kansas program at Douglas County Senior Services is offering enrollment assistance regarding Medicare’s prescription drug plans, beginning Monday at the Lawrence Senior Center, 745 Vt.
Seniors can make an appointment by calling 842-0543.
There also will be walk-in clinics where no appointment is necessary and people will be helped on a first-come, first-served basis. They will be from 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 30 and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 24, Nov. 10, Nov. 12, Nov. 19, Nov. 27, Nov. 29 and Dec. 5.
Area walk-in clinics will be offered from 9 a.m. to noon in:
• Baldwin City — Oct. 18 at Roberts Pharmacy, and Nov. 8 at Auburn Pharmacy.
• Eudora — Oct. 25 at Byrnes Pharmacy.
• Lecompton — Nov. 1 at Lecompton High School.
Seniors need to take their Medicare card and a list of their prescriptions. They also should take an income statement because they could be eligible for additional financial help.
Seniors also can compare plans or enroll in one by visiting The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ website at medicare.gov or by calling (800) 633-4227.
There also will be “Welcome to Medicare” sessions offered from noon to 1 p.m. Oct. 17 and Nov. 14 at the Lawrence Senior Center.