HELP LINE: It’s time for open enrollment with Medicare

TODAY IS OCT. 13. In addition to an ever-helpful reality check, that simple fact also tells us that Tuesday is Oct. 15.

And a lot of us care deeply about that.

Why? Well, you might have your own reasons, but my reason is that Oct. 15 marks the beginning of what most of us refer to as “open enrollment” for Medicare Part D.

True, it has a fancier “official” name, but “open enrollment” will serve just fine for our purposes today.

Oct. 15 through Dec. 7 of every year is the time when most of us can change our Part D plan or our Medicare Advantage Plan, with changes taking effect Jan. 1 of the new year.

By the way, it looks like there will actually be a few Medicare Advantage Plans available in our corner of the galaxy.

For the sake of clarity, we’ll confine ourselves to Part D (prescription drug) plans.

The obvious question is always: “If I’m just silly-happy with my Part D plan, why would I want to change?”

Well, you might not, but consider this: Part D plan premiums and formularies (meaning the drugs that are actually covered by the plan) change often.

Most of us would like to know that before we sign on to another year, then discover either or both of those unpleasant facts around say March.

Right. So, you can go “shopping” on Medicare’s “Plan Finder” and just see what the deal is.

You do not have to change if your current plan looks like a keeper for 2020, but you can if you want to.

All you have to do is go to the “Plan Finder,” conspicuously displayed on www.medicare.gov and start putting in your info.

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail, because many of us are familiar with this drill, so I’ll just call out a few cogent facts.

If you need or want help, call any of the numbers at the end of this column and decent people will help you for free and they will not try to sell you anything, because they (we) have nothing to sell.

First, a reminder: For those of us who have a “Low-Income Subsidy” (LIS), also known as “extra help,” for our Part D plans, remember that we can now only change from one Part D plan to another once per calendar quarter, for the first three quarters of the year.

It used to be that we could change plans monthly (and there can be some very good reasons to do that), but those days are gone.

Now, we can make one change per calendar quarter and that will take effect on the first day of the month following the request.

Here’s another new thing: We can now “personalize” our info on the Plan Finder by creating a personal account.

Why would we?

Well, it’ll save your list of prescription drugs, along with other user-specific information that is supposed to make your life easier now and in the future.

Is that true? I don’t know, but we’ll all know by this time next year.

Do you have to create an account to use the Plan Finder?

No, you do not, but remember that if you do not create an account, it won’t save your drug list, so if you change your mind about something two weeks later, you’ll be starting over.

How do you create said account?

Well, you go to medicare.gov/plan-compare and click on “Log in or create account,” and it will walk you through the rest.

Have your new Medicare card handy and remember that if something goes south you can call any of the numbers below for help.

Help? You bet!

You got the part about calling any of the numbers below, right?

OK, but many of us need to sit with a human as we work through the Plan Finder, so is that possible? For free?

Yes, to both.

How, when and where do we do that?

Here we go, working from west to east:

 In Forks, it’s “Information & Assistance” at 481 Fifith Ave.

I’d suggest you call 360-374-9496 (888-571-6559) and make an appointment with Susie.

• In Port Angeles, at the Port Angeles Senior Center, 328 E. Seventh St., every Friday from 9 a.m. to noon.

 In Sequim, go to Shipley Center, 921 E. Hammond St., every Tuesday from 9 a.m. to noon.

• In Port Townsend, it’s the Port Townsend Community Center, 620 Tyler St., from noon to 3 p.m. Oct. 15, Nov. 5, Nov. 19 and Dec. 3.

• In the Tri-Area area, it’s the Tri-Area Community Center, 10 West Valley Road in Chimacum, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Oct. 22, Oct. 29, Nov. 12 and Nov. 26.

• In Quilcene, go to the Quilcene Community Center, 294952 U.S. Highway 101, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 23 or Nov. 27.

• You thought we were ignoring Brinnon? Not hardly! At the Brinnon Community Center, 306144 U.S. Highway 101, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 24 or Nov. 21.

Remember to bring your new Medicare card, the list of prescription drugs that you’re taking and your patience. These “clinics” can get busy, so you might have to wait a bit.

What can I say? Sometimes, helping people takes time.

And remember that the folks who will help you did not invent Medicare, Part D or the Plan Finder.

They just re-invented genuine human decency.

________

Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].

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