2012 Medicare Open Enrollment Starts October 15
If you’re over 65 with nothing else to do on a Saturday morning, this Saturday morning is the first day you can sign up for or change your Medicare choices for 2012. In case you’d rather watch a grandson play soccer Saturday or — being politically correct — go to your granddaughter’s hockey game, you have from Saturday October 15 until December 7 to make those choices.
But whether you’re an early bird or the type that waits until the last minute, make sure you take a look and compare what you have now to the changes coming January 1.
- Part C Medicare Advantage and Part D Standalone Prescription Drug Plans get dropped (and added) county by county.
- Drugs get dropped from (and added to) existing plans’ formularies.
- Medigap plans (also called Medicare Supplement plans and popularly known in Massachusetts as Medex, although that’s just Blue Cross’ brand name) can change too. However all Medigap plans have to provide the same benefits.
As I wrote back in August, it’s not simple. But for 2012 medicare.gov makes it easy. Its Plan Finder involves only four steps. An explanation of how the Plan Finder works can be found if you click on…
The medicare.gov Medicare Plan Finder for 2012, provides information on plan “star ratings” that can work to your benefit during the year (see end of article). If you don’t feel comfortable using the Internet, get the grandkid to help when he or she comes home from the soccer or hockey game. Or call your local senior center and ask for an appointment with a SHINE (SHIP in most states outside Massachusetts) volunteer.
But if you do feel comfortable on the Internet, here’s what you find.
1. Fill in your zip code. That’s the first thing because the plans work county by county and it helps the software choose a drug store (yes, it can matter what drug store you use!):
When you enter your zip code, the software will ask you some information about how you use Medicare. You can check “I don’t know” if you want to move along and get a feel for the system and come back later to add the details. Medicare says that the more detail you provide the better job it can do providing choices.
2. Type in your drugs. I used a very common blood pressure medicine (in oval) as an example but entering any list of drugs is easy. In the atenolol case, the screen with the dosage choices popped up after I typed “a-t-e…”
Here’s what the drug list looks like after you’ve finished. Note the drug ID list number and password date (in the oval). Once you’ve entered your drugs, you don’t have to do it again… even next year. And it’s easy to add or remove drugs or change dosages. So write down that number and save it somewhere. (And supposedly it’s private and secure and all that blah blah blah… I’m not sure I believe that but — so what — the government already knows all about you IF you’re on Medicare.)
3. Choose a couple of pharmacies. Based on zip code, the system will give you some nearby choices but you can pick another one if you prefer using the “search” feature. The information in the oval explains why.
4. And bingo, you get your results. Now comes the hard part. There are typically 30 or more choices as explained in this post about a Harvard Study on the number of Medicare choices us seniors face. There are 43 (see oval) in my example but my example is purely made up. (This list is just of Part C and Part D plans but there is also a planner for Medigap on medicare.gov.)
The detail will explain to you the difference between Original Medicare and the plans available to you. Again, because my example was simple and just made up, there is only a $50 difference. But that’s a 20% “saving” and I’ve seen much larger “savings” for complex drug lists.
As for those star ratings I mentioned earlier, they work like a travel guide or restaurant rating system. Five star plans are the best, according to the government. And next year, the Medicare folks have added a special enrollment period that will let you upgrade to a five star plan once during 2012 (whereas in the past you have to wait a full year before switching). So I’m thinking I’ll choose a four-star plan first to give me a choice during 2012. But all zip codes/counties may not have five-star plans to choose from.
Another way to get flexibility half way through a year is to sign up for the Massaschusetts state Prescription Advantage (PA) program. Not everyone is eligible for PA but it’s worth taking a look at. (Note the PA web page on mass.gov in the link has a lot of out-of-date information on it as of October 13, 2011 but the PA program is still active.)