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Open Enrollment – More Than a Tsunami of Ads and Information

In four days, October 15th, the open enrollment period for making changes to your current Medicare coverage begins. It will end on December 7th (click here if you are just turning 65 for information on Medicare initial enrollment). The open enrollment period for switching from one Medicare Advantage plan to another or switch back to original Medicare is January 1st to March 31st.

You may have already deduced that it was that time of the year given the beginning of the insurance ads that will soon become a tidal wave of pleas to choose one form of Medicare insurance or another. It attacks our TVs, our email, our phones, and our mailboxes. While these ads use the usual hyperbole to make their product sound best, there is one fact that we shouldn’t ignore, it is in our best interest to take the time during this enrollment period, to review our Medicare insurance. The sad fact is, only one in four people take the time to review their Medicare coverage options, an oversight that could not only affect their pocketbook but also their health.

The many insurance ads tout the positive aspects of each insurance plan based on a general customer with health issues that fit their product most favorably. Even basic Medicare employs a one size fits all sort of coverage. The fact of the matter is, the best coverage for you depends on some very specific facts about you, your health and your family’s health history. Choosing Medicare health insurance without knowing these specifics facts is like buying an airline ticket before you know where you’re going. The good news is the airline website won’t let you buy a ticket without first telling it where you’re going. The bad news is no one can force you to consider your specific health facts before they allow you to purchase their insurance plan.

Hopefully the question has jumped into your mind, “what information should I know and what info should I gather before I begin a review of my insurance plan?” I’m glad you asked. Here are some steps to get prepared:

  1. Watch this video on the basics. Once it is over there are many other videos offered that will go into more detail on a variety of related subjects. Another good information resource is here.
  2. Gather information about your existing Medicare coverage like: premium costs, deductibles, co-pays, co-insurance, out-of-pocket caps, etc.
  3. Assemble information concerning what doctors you use, pharmacy preferences, the drugs you take, the cost of your drugs, and what special ongoing services you require.
  4. Document if there have been any changes to your health have occurred this year.
  5. Are you anticipating the need for dental or vision care next year?
  6. What Illnesses are historically prevalent in your family?
  7. Decide if it has been difficult to pay for the costs of your healthcare this year.
  8. Will you be traveling extensively within the U.S. or to foreign countries?

This information will help you as you review the different plans. There are two main types of Medicare insurance, Medigap (or Medicare supplemental insurance) and Medicare Advantage. As you review these many options it is important that you check that your doctors are in the plan’s network, that the prescription drugs you take are in your plan’s formulary and you know the cost of those drugs in each plan. How does the plan cover preventative care? What is the plan’s mental health coverage? How do they cover illnesses that are historically prevalent in your family? Don’t be afraid to talk with your doctor about any of these questions. It’s this type of specific information and questions that can ensure you get the best possible insurance for you. I have a few other points that might help.

First, there are legitimate and trusted resources that can help you with your decision. The difficult task is to find someone who is knowledgeable of the different insurance options but to understand if they are affiliated with (read paid a commission by) a particular company. State Health Insurance Assistance Programs exist in every state. You can find more information here.

Second, if you search online for Medicare coverage you will find many websites that look like they are government sponsored or affiliated. They will want to give you information on Medicare but will ultimately want to sell you their insurance. Even ads on TV will sound like they are government affiliated or are neutral in their insurance recommendations. Be skeptical, avoid going to websites labeled ads and go directly to a company’s website. Use the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Finder to find the Part D plan that is right for you.

Healthcare is complicated, I wish it wasn’t, but it is. We can either stick our heads in the sand or decide that we can have some control on this aspect of our life and work to find the plan that fits us the best. The tools that allow us to make the correct decision are available – we just need to decide that we are going to be the one of the four that uses these tools to review our Medicare coverage.

Best, Thair

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Last Call for Open Enrollment!

As we enter the most wonderful time of the year, we may be focused primarily on spending time with family and friends, exchanging gifts, and indulging in decadent holiday treats. However, we cannot overlook the fact that it is another wonderful time of year, as well—Medicare open enrollment!

The open enrollment period for new and existing Medicare beneficiaries to select or alter their plans runs from October 15th to December 7th. We have previously discussed the importance of taking a good look at your plan and making any necessary changes, and it’s not too late!

For those of you turning 65, now is a great time to take a close look at your options and select a Medicare plan that matches your needs based on the medications you take and treatments you use. For those of you already enrolled, you may not know that you are able to alter your plan every year during open enrollment. So, whether your needs have changed, you have switched medications, or have been diagnosed with a new illness, open enrollment season is an important time for you to take a close look at your plan and make any necessary changes.

Remember, you know your health best—so make sure you are taking charge of your treatment options by enrolling in a Medicare plan that best fits your goals, budget, and lifestyle. There are numerous tools that you can use to find information about different options, including information about plans based on where you live. Click here for an easy-to-use tool that can help you identify potential matches, and here to learn even more about just how important it is to utilize the open enrollment period.

Time is ticking on your chance to make changes to your health care plans! We all know time flies when you are having fun, so make sure to take a quick look at your options during these last few days of Medicare open enrollment. The holidays will be here before we know it!

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Two Things Seniors MUST Do This October

It’s October and yes, like many of us, I engage in the ritual of digging out sweaters, putting a fall wreath on my front door, and buying Halloween candy ostensibly for my grandkids. But here are two October activities that all of us over 65 really MUST do ourselves:

1) Get a flu shot

2) Review and compare our Medicare coverage

Flu Season

You’ve seen the statistics, influenza is a serious illness. It’s not just a bad cold and the danger it presents to us increases as we age. In fact, according to the CDC, it is estimated that between about 70-85% of season flu-related deaths are in Americans 65 and older. We are more susceptible to flu complications as we age due to weakening immune systems—but there are steps we can take to protect ourselves.

Getting a flu shot is honestly one of the best investments you can make in protecting your health. There is even a “high dose” flu vaccine, which, during clinical trials, reduced influenza infection in adults 65 and older by 24%. You can plug in your Zip Code here to find locations near you where you can get your flu shot today!

Reviewing Your Medicare Coverage

Here’s a short cautionary tale. I have a friend who worked in healthcare. When he turned 65, he was meticulous in picking his Part D coverage. Though he didn’t take many medicines, he did have one which was very new and not covered by a lot of Part D plans. It was expensive but the plan he picked was excellent.

For a couple years, he continued to review his plan each year and found his plan still worked great. In October of last year, he was busy and thought he didn’t need to bother with it. He just renewed his usual plan. After all, it has been fine for the past few years.

You can probably guess the rest of the story. The formulary — the list of drugs a plan covers – changed and his medicine was no longer covered under his usual plan.

It was a tough way to learn a lesson, but I hope his trouble will now serve as a lesson to all my fellow seniors. Please take the time to review your plan this year and every year.

Open enrollment starts TODAY, and lasts until to December 7th. This is the time where you can first enroll in Medicare, as well as review and make changes to existing plans. You can find a plan that works for you on Medicare’s website here, and get some helpful open enrollment tips here.

I promise, these two simple tasks will make all the difference to your health, so make sure to check them off your to-do list this October!

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How Much Do You Know About Fall Open Enrollment?

Fall open enrollment is quickly approaching, which means it is time to brush up on your Medicare knowledge! Open enrollment is the time period when you are able to review, compare, and select your health care plan choices and Medicare Part D prescription drug plans. Medicare Today has some great resources for beneficiaries, as well as specific information for older Americans who want to learn more about open enrollment and their health care options.

For those of you already enrolled, becoming eligible soon, or those who just want to learn more, take our open enrollment quiz below!

At what age does someone become eligible for Medicare?




One becomes eligible for Medicare at age 65.


True or False: The Medicare open enrollment period only happens once per year




Medicare open enrollment only happens once per year.


When can you evaluate your healthcare needs and either select a new plan or fine-tune a current plan?




You can do this between October 15th and December 7th


True of False: Once you select a plan, you cannot change it the next year during open enrollment.


Correct! Each year during open enrollment, you can compare plans and find the one that works best for you.


False. Each year during open enrollment, you can compare plans and find the one that works best for you.


What is the name of the program that can help cover Part D costs for those with limited incomes?




The correct program is the Extra Help program.


True or False: If you don’t sign up for Part D during the open enrollment period but decide to do so later, you may receive a penalty fee.




This is true. If you don’t sign up for Part D during the open enrollment period but decide to do so later, you may receive a penalty fee.


Now that you have brushed up on the facts, it’s time to sign-up or change your plan! Check out the Plan Finder at Once you find a plan right for you, you can call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) or visit to make your changes.

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Goodbye 2016 – Hello 2017

It’s been a great year at Seniors Speak Out. We kicked off 2016 by speaking out to tell members of Congress why Medicare Part B is so important to us. By working together to write letters to Congress, we protected our essential access to health care.

We celebrated National Immunization Awareness Month, National Sarcoma Awareness Month, and National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and even wished a Happy Birthday to 1951! As always, we also provided many tips for living a healthy and active senior lifestyle.

In the last few weeks we also shared resources to help with open enrollment and to assess your coverage.

As we say goodbye to 2016 and hello to 2017, we want to hear from you! Tell us what you would like to see on the Seniors Speak Out blog in 2017 in the comment section below. As always, thanks for reading!

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One Day Left of Open Enrollment

One day left! As you probably know, Medicare open enrollment ends December 7 so today and tomorrow are your last chances to change your plan for the upcoming year. Seniors Speak Out has some great resources to help you with the open enrollment process, such as the Fast Facts page, or 5 Tips for Open Enrollment, and of course the More Medicare Resources page.

A few more resources were added to the blog throughout open enrollment this year:

  • If you are changing your plan at the last minute this year or helping someone with their coverage, visit the 2017 Guide to Medicare Open Enrollment for questions to consider when assessing plans, such as preferred pharmacies, medication needs, co-payments and co-insurance fees.
  • A special guest post from longtime senior advocate, Bob Blancato, has open enrollment resources from our partner organization Medicare Today, including a helpful image that is being distributed to senior centers across America.

It’s not too late to assess your health care needs and change your plan for next year! There is one day left of open enrollment, so please look over the resources and posts mentioned above to make sure your health care coverage is meeting your needs!

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The Holidays Are a Great Time to Think About Your Health

Medicare open enrollment is here again until December 7.

It is an important opportunity to make sure that your Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage or Medicare Advantage Plan still meets your needs, as well as a chance to explore other options. But, as you go through this process, be sure to take a few extra minutes to review and update your health information, as well.

Do you have an up-to-date list of all the medicines you take? Are the dosages written down also? What about a list of the vitamins or other supplements you take? Do you regularly use any over-the-counter (OTC) medicines like low dose aspirin? They need to be noted, too. So often, people forget to include supplements or OTCs when asked about medicines. Make sure your list is complete.

Next, you should have the names and contact information for all the doctors or other providers you see. Be sure to include why you see them or what they are treating you for.

Yes, it takes a little bit of time to get all of these facts and numbers up-to-date, but having them ready is a real convenience when you visit a new doctor and have to fill out forms, or if you are faced with an emergency and need information quickly. And you will need that list of medicines and dosages in order to review your prescription plan.

When Medicare Part D was first passed more than a decade ago, beneficiaries were encouraged to use the Thanksgiving holiday period—when families were likely to be together—to review their Medicare options and discuss them with their loved ones. And that idea is still an excellent one. But you don’t have to stop there!

Every person in your family, regardless of their age, should have a list of their doctors, any conditions they have, and any medicines. Everyone! So Thanksgiving is also a perfect time to urge your family to follow your good example!

Finally, don’t forget that the Seniors Speak Out website has many useful tools to help you with open enrollment! Be sure to check them out and share with your friends.

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Open Enrollment Essentials from Medicare Today

As you likely know, Medicare open enrollment is currently underway. Open enrollment is your chance to shop around the Medicare marketplace, comparing the features of different Part D plans and deciding whether to switch policies based on your needs. These plans provide seniors with affordable access to prescription drugs, which help keep them healthy.

Surveys have shown that nine out of ten beneficiaries are consistently happy with their coverage. This is due largely in part to reliably affordable plans. Monthly premiums for Part D have been stable for years—around $34. Seniors with prescription needs may want to take advantage of these plans by participating in open enrollment before the deadline on December 7, 2016.

When participating, seniors should seek out resources to help them navigate the process. In addition to the many helpful pages on this website, Seniors Speak Out’s partner organization, Medicare Today, has useful information for older adults and caregivers. They created the image below to help guide your open enrollment process. The steps provided will help you evaluate your Part D prescription drug plan. You can visit or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) when you are ready to change your plan. Don’t forget to visit the Seniors Speak Out Fast Facts page for more information.

Look for this image at a local senior center to help you with open enrollment this year and remember: this is the only time of year to make changes to your Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. Make sure you’re covered today for the care you may need tomorrow.



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Helping Hand: Tips for Open Enrollment

With Medicare open enrollment upon us, it’s important that those of us 65 and older take the time to look at our current coverage and determine if it still meets our individual needs. Assessing our health plan is especially essential when it comes to our Medicare coverage. Each year, Medicare users are given the opportunity to alter their Medicare Part D plan from October 15th to December 7th. This is the only time we can make changes to our Part D coverage for the upcoming year – given the fact that your medicines may change from year-to-year this is especially important. Use these tips to assess your current prescription drug coverage and determine if it meets your needs!

Know Your Current Medications

Medications change often, and it’s important to have a full list of all of your current medications before you assess your Part D coverage. Making sure your current medications are covered is a great place to start when determining if your plan meets your health care needs.

Review All Costs

Often times when we consider our health care costs, we only consider our monthly premiums. Don’t forget that there are other costs associated with health care coverage, such as out-of-pocket cost sharing like copays or coinsurance. Check these factors to determine if they fit within your budget.

Check Approved Pharmacies

Most of us have a favorite pharmacy—make sure it’s included in your Part D coverage. To do so, check if your pharmacy is preferred under your plan’s network. This can help lower out-of-pocket costs.

Assess Plan Ratings

Did you know Part D plans are assessed by a five-star rating system? You can see how they are performing on specific features, such as customer service and patient safety. Be sure to check how your plan stacks up.

Look for Other Options

After you assess your plan, look into other options to see if there is a better fit for your personal needs. Use this Medicare Plan Finder to explore your options and compare plans here.

If you have questions, visit your local Area Agency on Aging for assistance or visit our resource page. You’re not alone in your quest to get the best health care coverage!

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Happy Birthday, 1951!

If you were born in 1951, this is a big year for you since you’re turning 65. This birthday is a milestone because 65 means you have a new rite of passage—enrolling in Medicare!

As you probably know, Medicare is the federal health insurance program for people age of 65 and over. There are many benefits to having Medicare, so you should consider enrolling as soon as you are eligible.

You might be thinking: How can I prepare for enrollment? It’s a simple process, and there are some great tools to help guide you. Use this questionnaire to get started. It will help you determine your eligibility. Then, take some time to look over the different coverage options and decide what is best for you. Think about your long-term health needs and the prescription drugs you rely on to stay healthy.

The best part is, you don’t have to do this research alone. Talk to your doctor about your health care needs, ask questions about what coverage your employer or former employer offer and review plans that are available in your area. Visit your local State Health Insurance Assistance Program or your local Area Agency on Aging to get all of your questions answered by professionals.

Your older friends can also be a great resource. Talk with them about their enrollment process and the coverage they selected. Everyone’s health needs are different, but getting some insight from friends can be helpful.

Seniors Speak Out is also here to help! Visit our resource page and be on the lookout for upcoming blogs about open enrollment, which starts on October 15 and goes to December 7.

Happy Birthday, 1951, from all of us at Seniors Speak Out!