WARNING: THIS COLUMN is going to be all about opportunities to understand Medicare.
If you don’t care about Medicare, don’t care about anyone who does and can’t imagine caring about it anytime soon, then you’re going to be bored out of your mind.
Feel free to take evasive action.
Now, allow me to overstate the obvious: Medicare is complicated; it isn’t impossible.
Might do some good
Most of us do begin to get most of it after awhile, but if you’re teetering on the brink of Medicare, what I’m about to tell you might do you some good.
I’m hoping you haven’t waited to pay attention to Medicare until you are “on the brink” because it takes awhile to understand, so it might be wise to have some time to think and plan, but let me cut to the chase here, and you can make your own decisions.
There are about to be three of what we call “Welcome to Medicare” workshops. They will teach you about Part A, Part B, Medicare Supplement plans (“Medigaps”), Medicare Advantage Plans (Part C) and Part D prescription drug plans.
Each of these workshops is scheduled for 90 minutes.
Is that enough time to learn everything there is to know about Medicare? Of course not.
Is it enough to get you in the ballpark and allow you to start thinking, planning and asking more questions? Absolutely.
These workshops are led by trained and seasoned Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) volunteers who are up to their eyes in this stuff all the time. They know what they’re talking about.
Here’s the schedule for the workshops:
• Tuesday from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Port Townsend Community Center, 620 Tyler St.
• Sept. 7 from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Tri-Area Community Center, 10 West Valley Road in Chimacum.
• Sept. 13 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Shipley Center, 921 E. Hammond St. in Sequim.
These are free. All you have to do is show up, pay attention and ask the questions that are on your mind.
By the way, just because you might already be on Medicare doesn’t necessarily imply that you understand it, so feel free.
I’m not done. I told you that Medicare was complicated.
Many of us are well aware (OK, painfully aware) that Part D “open enrollment” begins Oct. 15 and goes through Dec. 7.
This is the time of year when we can review our current Part D prescription drug plan and/or search for “better” Part D plans, then switch, if we’re so inclined.
Why would we do that?
Well, Part D plans can (and often do) change from one year to the next: Premiums can change, formularies (the drugs that the plan actually covers) can change, tiers (what drugs are covered to what degree) can change and the drugs that we are (or aren’t) taking can certainly change, so going through the annual exercise of seeing if there’s a plan out there that would be better for me next year is just smart.
How to make it happen
Many of us know that, but not all of us know how to actually make that happen.
We have a vague idea that it has to do with a website, but that’s about it.
I don’t blame you, so here are some opportunities to get hands-on experience actually doing that.
• Sept. 21 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Port Angeles Senior &Community Center, 328 E. Seventh St.
• Oct. 5 from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Tri-Area Community Center.
• Oct. 12 from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Port Townsend Community Center.
You’ll learn how to access the magic website, add your prescription drugs, choose your pharmacy, enter the Part D plan you select and actually enroll in that plan (so when Oct. 15 hits, you can nail this thing and go enjoy the holidays).
You’ll want to bring your computer or tablet; only the Port Angeles workshop will have computers on site.
If you can’t bring said gizmo or don’t have one or whatever, handouts with step-by-step instructions will be available.
You’ll also want to bring a list of your prescription drugs so this will be real for you. You won’t need to show it to anybody because it’s nobody else’s business.
Again, these are free and they’ll be led by these amazing people I call SHIBA volunteers.
Now, don’t let this get around, but these SHIBA folks actually help people with all kinds of health insurance, not just Medicare — private insurance, employer insurance, Medicaid, VA, Tri-Care, etc. ad infinitum.
Yes, it is incredible because they actually understand this stuff.
(I suspect they’re all genetic anomalies with huge brains, but I don’t care. They understand this stuff and they’re genuinely decent people.)
And we normal people can actually get them to help us — for free — all year long.
Times for help
Are you ready?
• First Tuesday of every month from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Port Townsend Community Center.
• The second and fourth Tuesdays of every month from 10 a.m. to noon at the Tri-Area Community Center.
• The fourth Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Quilcene Community Center (294952 U.S. Highway 101).
• Every Tuesday at Shipley Center from 10 a.m. to noon.
• Every Friday at the Port Angeles Senior Center from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
• And the first Wednesday of every month at Forks’ Information &Assistance office, 481 Fifth Ave., from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., but you can make appointments for other days or times by calling 360-374-9496.
These are free, so you can just walk in with your insurance question(s) or problem(s) and an appropriately glazed expression and trust that decent people will help you.
I acknowledge that this particular column wasn’t exactly riddled with my usual, highly sophisticated humor; however, if you can find something funny about health insurance, you probably need a very different kind of help.
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]