Medicare open enrollment ends on Wednesday and the Ocean County Office of Senior Services urging residents to sign up as soon as possible if they want to make changes in their coverage.
In Ocean County, where 21 percent of the population is 65 or older, many residents have been comparing coverage options and dealing with paperwork since the enrollment period began Oct. 15. Now it's down to the wire.
As usual, there are changes in coverage to go over, said Ocean County Office of Senior Services Director D. Jane Maloney. Read on for a recap of our guide to coverage, news about changes and resources for those dealing with the enrollment process.
Medicare Part A covers hospitalization, and B covers doctor’s visits and other services. Part A is usually free; Part B is optional and comes with a premium. Together, they’re often referred to as original or traditional Medicare, Maloney explained.
Original Medicare leaves a lot uncovered, so many people sign up for supplemental insurance to fill the holes. This Medigap coverage may cost more on a monthly basis, but it provides more complete protection.
Others opt for Medicare Advantage, or Part C, which instead allows recipients to sift through private but government-subsidized plans and pick one that fits their needs – one with a lower hospital deductible, for instance, or one that offers a low co-pay for medical equipment. The types and diversity of Medicare Advantage plans vary depending on where you live; you can find out what's available to you locally by using the Medicare Plan Finder on the Medicare website.
And then there’s Part D, Medicare’s prescription drug coverage plan, which was added in 2006. For those with Advantage, drug coverage is bundled with other benefits. But for those with original Medicare, Part D is offered as an extra stand-alone plan. Like Advantage, the Part D plans are privately run but are subsidized by the government, and while there are usually a few options to choose from, a plan may not be the same from year to year, said Maloney.
“Things change,” she said. “There are different premiums for all of these Part D stand-alone plans.”
And those Part D plans are certainly not one size fits all, she said.
“A husband and wife might go into the same health insurance plan, but they wouldn’t necessarily need the same Part D plan,” Maloney said. That’s why it’s key to go over your prescription needs in detail every year, she said, and switch to a new plan if those needs change.
Medicare Part B premiums are increasing, but not as much as expected. The government reports that the monthly Part B premium will be $99.90, which is $3.50 more than in 2011. Earlier this year, a government report projected an increase of $10.60.
New retirees were expected to have higher monthly premiums, but instead of paying $115.40, they’ll also pay the standard $99.90 rate.
The Part B deductible has decreased, too, from $162 in 2011 to $140 for next year, though Part A deductibles for hospital stays went up by $24 to $1,156.
Medicare Advantage plans are expected to be a little cheaper in 2012. The Huffington Post reported back in September that the government says Part C premiums will drop about 4 percent, averaging $32 a month.
For a comprehensive list of Part A and B premiums, deductibles and co-pays for 2012, see the PDF attached to this story.
Help for those who need it:
Wading through enrollment paperwork and figuring out whether a plan change is a good idea is complicated, said Maloney, but there are resources for Ocean County residents who want some assistance.
The Office of Senior Services recently offered a number of one-on-one help sessions for Part D enrollees at the County Connection office at the Ocean County Mall.
Residents can also call the Office of Senior Services directly at 732-929-2092 to ask about other available help. Maloney also suggested exploring the Medicare website, which has lots of resources for people looking to compare plans and get answers to enrollment questions.