By Benjamin Bullard
The Cullman Times
HOLLY POND —
The enrollment season for next year’s Medicare Part D drug plan begins Monday, but it’s probably a good idea to wait a week before starting the process, according to local senior service workers.
That’s because there are always a few hiccups with the federally-administered computer system that stores enrollees’ information, said Cullman County Commission on Aging director Randall Shedd.
“If it were me, I would wait until the second week — which is the week of Oct. 22 — because, typically, each year the national Medicare computer system, which we use, seems to have glitches in it. It usually takes a few days after the first day for Medicare to get the computers working properly,” said Shedd.
The Cullman County Commission on Aging offers assistance with the enrollment process, and has staff who can consult with local Medicare Part D enrollees in person, over the phone, or refer plan participants to other helpful resources.
The open enrollment period for 2013 runs from Oct. 15 - Dec. 7. Anyone on Medicare is eligible for prescription drug coverage under Medicare Part D, or under a Medicare Advantage Plan that takes the place of Medicare.
“Your current plan can change for next year — the monthly premium, the deductible, the medicine co-pays,” Shedd explained. “Any changes for 2013 in your current Medicare Part D plan or Medicare Advantage Plan should be in the notice you receive in the mail.”
Those covered under a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan or a Medicare Advantage plan should have already received in the mail from their current provider a notice of any changes in the plan for next year.
“If you don’t change or compare plans for next year, make sure the medicine you take is listed on the formulary — that’s the list of medicines that are covered,” Shedd said. “Anyone on Medicare (not eligible for what is called “extra help”) will be locked in to whatever plan they have chosen by the deadline on December 7th.
“Those on Medicare who qualify for “extra help” can switch to another Medicare prescription drug plan anytime. “Extra help” means programs such as Social Security pay a portion or all of your Medicare Part D plan for you. Coverage will be effective the first day of the month after a change in plans, for those with ‘Extra Help.”
Whatever date you enroll, it’s important to set aside enough time for what Shedd described as a “time-consuming process.” Choosing the right time of day to call or visit the Cullman County Commission on Aging can make a big difference in the time required to finish your enrollment.
“It seems, in the past, that the first thing in the morning — around 8 a.m. — is very busy, and the first thing after lunch — around 1 p.m. — is very busy,” said Shedd. “The wait may be longer during these times. Around 11:30 a.m., we start asking people in line to let us take lunch from 12 to 12:30. Therefore, when we start back after lunch, we start with those already signed in, which means people are ahead of you if you arrive at 1 p.m. You certainly don’t want to wait until after 3:30 p.m., because we close at 4:30.
“We do our best to help everyone as quickly as possible, but we ask for your patience as this is the busiest time of the year for Commission on Aging, and we help people one at a time as you come in,” he added.
There are several ways for you to compare Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage Plans for next year:
* Call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227)
To speak with a live human being, when the menu asks you for your Medicare number, say the word “agent” instead of giving your number and you will be transferred to a person. Have your information ready: Medicare card, list of medicine you take and dosage.
*Go online to the Medicare web site at www.medicare.gov
Click the yellow button named “Find Health and Drug Plans” and enter your information in the Personalized Search to find plans that are best for you.
* Call NARCOG (The North Central Alabama Regional Council of Governments) at 1-800-AGE-LINE (1-800-243-5463)
Have your information ready when you call.
* Call the Cullman County Commission on Aging at 256 734-1241
Ask for a form to be mailed to you so you can complete it and return it to the Commission on Aging by mail. Commission on Aging staff will then process a comparison for you, using the Medicare web site, and mail you the top three plans that are best for you.
* Go to the Commission on Aging office
The Commission on Aging is located at 1539 Sportsman Lake Road NW in Cullman, and is open from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Monday - Friday. The office in closed on holidays, and is closed each business day for lunch from 12 noon until 12:30 p.m.
Bring your Medicare card, and bring all of your medicine with you — or a list of your medicine and dosage, and your insurance and income information.
* Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.