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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published September 25 2011

Bursack: Open enrollment for Medicare earlier this year

Dear Readers: Around Sept. 30, those of you on Medicare will receive information about a change in the Medicare annual open enrollment dates.

Open enrollment is when you can make changes in the plans and providers you’ve chosen for your Medicare D prescription drug coverage, your supplemental plan and Medicare Advantage if you’ve chosen that option.

Under a provision of the Affordable Care Act, the Medicare annual open enrollment period this year changes to Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. If the companies you’ve chosen as providers or the plans you’ve chosen are no longer the best fit for you, you may change without a penalty. If you are happy with your plans and the providers, you won’t have to do a thing.

The reason for moving up the open enrollment dates is to allow you to make changes and still receive your new cards before Jan. 1, 2012. Medicare will have had time to update any changes in your coverage, and you should have your new cards in your possession when the new year starts, streamlining the paperwork for your care.

Changes coming up with Medicare include a small increase in Medicare D premiums and deductibles. The good news is that the efforts to close the dreaded doughnut hole – the coverage gap when people must pay out-of-pocket for medications – move forward, albeit slowly.

The coverage gap starts when enrollees reach the initial coverage limit, which is estimated to be $2,930 for 2012, and ends when they have spent $4,700. In 2012, people who reach the coverage gap will receive a 14 percent discount on generic drugs, which is up from 7 percent in 2011. The discount for other drugs remains the same.

People who choose Medicare Advantage rather than traditional Medicare will see less of a government subsidy paid to their private insurance companies, so their costs will increase somewhat. Medicare Advantage generally covers more services than traditional Medicare.

Medicare B premiums are tied to the cost-of-living increases (COLA) in their Social Security, so those premiums may go up slightly. This change will be known when the COLA becomes known in October.

Most Medicare beneficiaries should receive their Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) and Evidence of Coverage (EOC) from their existing Medicare Part D, supplemental coverage plan or Medicare Advantage providers by Sept. 30. In October, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is expected to make information on changes to programs available on their website at www.Medicare.gov.

Examine your needs carefully and then compare coverage and prices. This will be your time to change what you don’t like – or keep what you do.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.