Medicare Open Enrollment Period Means More Decisions

If you are a Medicare beneficiary, it is time to review your Medicare prescription drug plan options. The Medicare Part D open enrollment period begins November 15, 2006, and ends December 31, 2006. During this period you can sign up for a prescription drug plan if you don’t have one or you can switch to a different plan if you are unhappy with your current plan. Even if you are happy with your current plan, you should make sure that it isn’t changing significantly. In addition, there may be new plans available that have lower premiums or offer more drug options.

Companies began marketing their 2007 drug plans at the beginning of October. If you are already signed up with a plan, you don’t take any action; you will remain in the same drug plan. However, you need to be sure your plan will still meet your needs in 2007. Plans can change the covered drugs, premiums, and appeals process, among other things. The Medicare.gov Web site has a personalized search feature that allows you to see what will be covered next year and to compare plans.

When reviewing your plan, factors to consider include the cost of the premium, what drugs are covered, what pharmacies are covered, and whether any drug exceptions will continue to be honored. For more information on what to look for, you can find checklists at MedicareAdvocacy.org and at ElderLawAnswers.com. You can also click here for a Drug Plan Comparison Worksheet that allows beneficiaries to note important information about each plan, compare the plans side by side, and identify the one that best meets their needs.

Whether Medicare premiums are going up or staying the same next year depends on who you ask. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) estimated that average monthly premiums would stay the same next year at $24 a month. The CMS estimate was based on premiums for stand alone drug plans and Medicare Advantage (managed care/HMO) plans. However, according to an article in the Washington Post, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) claims that if you look at just the Medicare stand alone plans, average monthly premiums are going up 13.2 percent to $29 a month.

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