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Navigating health: A good idea to review Medicare plan every year

In my last column I reviewed the Medicare Coverage options, the ABCD's of Medicare. I want to stress some important points and review the process for making changes to the Part D plan.

Open Enrollment began Oct. 15 and continues through Dec. 7. This is the last chance to make a change out of an Advantage plan (Part C) or into a C plan. I want to emphasize that if you initially choose an Advantage plan and you want to move back to “Original Medicare” (A&B) you will have to go through underwriting to then get a supplemental plan which covers the 20 percent copay which is not not covered by Part B for outpatient costs and doctor visits.

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When you are nearing age 65 you can sign up for Medicare the three months prior to your birth month, the month of your birth and the three months past your birth month. At the same time you are eligible for a Supplemental plan such as an AARP plan (just as an example). If you sign up at this time there will be no underwriting requirement which means you won't be penalized for pre-existing conditions and turned down for a plan. If, however, you take an Advantage Plan and at a later open enrollment period want to switch to the traditional plan you must go to underwriting and may be rejected for a Supplemental policy or pay a very high rate. I want to clarify that point because basically should you not like the Advantage Plan you are potentially stuck with it!

Every year I review the process for reviewing the Part D plan, which is also offered when you sign up for Original Medicare.

While some think that once you are in a Part D plan you are in it forever, the fact is everyone should review their plan yearly. In order to evaluate your plan you must either make an appointment at the Bureau of Aging and Disabilities where a staff member will help you or you can go to the Medicare website.

If you choose to go on the website here are some directions to help you navigate the site:

Go online to www.medicare.gov. Next, go to the green box, which says “find health and drug plans” and this will ask for “general info” or personalized search. (You will need your ZIP code that Social Security has listed, your Medicare number, effective date of Part A, and date of birth.)

STEP 1: Enter the information into the “Search” section.

STEP 2: Enter your current medications. Note that you must have the dosage and you must enter in how many pills you will need for one month. So if you take Metroprolol 50 mg twice a day then you type in Metroprolol in the search; select the dosage when it comes up; and select 60 pills for 30 days. Continue adding medications one by one until your list is created. You will get a drug list ID and password (the date) for future use if you wish to consider options and return to the site later.

STEP 3: Enter the name of the pharmacy you wish to use. Not that if your loved one resides in a facility you must know the name of the pharmacy that provides their medications and that pharmacy’s ZIP code. This can get tricky if you are trying to put in a local ZIP code but the pharmacy has a ZIP code in another state, such as Millennium, for example.

STEP 4: Refine results. Unless you currently have a Part C Advantage Plan, you will check “Original Medicare”. Continue to the “Plan Comparison Chart.” You will see your current plan to the right in a small box where your Drug ID is located. Below “Original Medicare” you will see the options for different plans. Compare the total you will pay for 2018 from your current plan with the top plans. Be sure to note the premium cost, deductibles across the top line of each plan. If you check the top two plans and your current plan you will get a side-by-side comparison. At this time you, can enroll or you can come back to the site and everything is saved. You are under no obligation to switch if you enter in information. If your current plan is still the most comprehensive, great, keep it and you’re done! If not, you have the opportunity to save considerable money.

For those who never signed up for a Part D plan, you may sign up now, although you will incur penalty charges of 33 cents per month from the time you were eligible to sign up. If you were eligible two years ago then 33 cents per month for 2 years ($7.92) will be added to your premium each month. This does add up if you were eligible from the time of inception of Part D in 2006, but you still can save a lot of money if you are taking multiple or expensive drugs. This is worth the time and effort. You can also call Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE or 800-486-2048.

To make an appointment to review your Medicare options call the Bureau of Aging and Disabilities at 410-386-3800. To discuss Medicare Supplements call Mark Trent at 301-730-8229

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