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*Note: This updated column previously ran in The Sentinel in October 2015.

If you are enrolled in Medicare, and believe that after your initial enrollment there is nothing else to do, here are a few important reminders. The Medicare open enrollment period begins on Oct. 15 and ends on Dec. 7.

If you are considering making changes to your plan, now is the time. If you are beginning to think about enrolling in Medicare, this general information can help you get started.

Parts of Medicare

Part A is hospital insurance. This type of coverage applies to hospital stays, hospice, rehabilitation in a skilled nursing facility and some home health services (certain conditions apply). Part A is administered by the federal government under Traditional Medicare.

Part B is medical insurance. Physician services, outpatient care, medical supplies, and preventive services are covered under Part B. Part B is administered by the federal government under Traditional Medicare.

Part C is a combination of Part A and Part B coverage that is administered by private insurance companies which have contracted with Medicare.

Part D is prescription drug coverage. Some Part C plans may already include this coverage, or it may be purchased separately.

Eligibility

Those who are eligible for Medicare at age 65 have a 7 month initial enrollment period to sign up for the coverage types listed above. This period includes the 3 months prior to one’s 65th birthday, the month of the 65th birthday, and the 3 months following the birthday.

Individuals with a disability or end-stage renal disease, or who receive Medicaid may have a different eligibility date than their 65th birthday.

Some individuals may qualify automatically for Medicare, while others may need to sign up. Visit www.medicare.gov and use their calculator to determine eligibility or call your local Social Security office.

Costs

Part A – Usually there is no premium for Part A if you or your spouse worked for at least 10 years (40 calendar quarters) and made payments to Social Security.

Part B – Most people pay the standard premium amount of $104.90 if they enroll when initially eligible. An extra charge may be added if an individual’s modified adjusted gross income on their IRS return is above a certain amount. Penalties may apply if an individual doesn’t enroll when initially eligible. Deductibles, coinsurance, and copays may also apply.

Part C – Participants must pay the same monthly premium that applies to those enrolled in Traditional Medicare Part B. Additional costs may include extra monthly premiums, annual deductibles, copayments, and charges for using out-of-network providers. These costs depend on the type of Medicare Advantage plan chosen. These plans may also change their benefits, premiums, and copayments annually.

Part D – Costs will vary depending on the plan you choose and the types of medication that you take. These plans should be reviewed annually due to changes in premiums, your prescriptions, and pharmacy formularies (their list of covered medications).

Important Annual Dates

Jan. 1 to March 31: This is a general enrollment period for those who did not enroll in Medicare when they were initially eligible.

Jan. 1 to Feb. 14: Individuals may choose to change from a Medicare Advantage plan (Part C) to Traditional Medicare (Parts A and B) and a drug plan (Part D).

Oct. 15 to Dec. 7: Open enrollment period during which one may change from Traditional Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan; change from a Medicare Advantage plan to Traditional Medicare; change from one Medicare Advantage plan to another; or join, drop, or change a Medicare drug plan.

Choosing Medicare coverage may sound like a daunting task. While there are many details to consider, the government website, www.medicare.gov, contains information written in plain English and organized by specific topics. Taking the time to understand the various Medicare benefits, which are available may save you money and surprises later on when specific types of benefits are needed.

The Cumberland County Aging & Community Services office also offers free counseling about Medicare choices through the APPRISE program. For information about this program and to obtain assistance with understanding your options and making choices about your coverage, call the office at 717-240-6110 or 1-888-697-0371, ext. 6110. There is also a toll-free APPRISE Helpline at 1-800-783-7067.

If you desire additional general information about Medicare, Keystone Elder Law is offering free seminars on Wednesday, Nov. 1 at 2 p.m. and Thursday, Nov. 2 at 10 a.m. Both seminars will be held in Mechanicsburg. Please call the office at 717-697-3223 to register and obtain directions.

Learn more about the article’s author, and other community education opportunities, at www.keystoneelderlaw.com. Check out the book, “Long Term Care Guide: Essential Tools for Solving the Elder Care Puzzle,” at the Whistlestop Bookshop or Amazon, and see Keystone’s free directory of services for older adults at www.mypeaceguide.com. Keystone Elder Law has offices in Mechanicsburg and Carlisle. Call 717-697-3223 for a free telephone consultation.

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