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Online Tools to Shop for Part D Coverage

It is interesting to hear younger people talk about how hard it is to choose health insurance plans. They’re right. Evaluating all the intricacies of multiple plans can at times be a significant challenge. That’s why Medicare beneficiaries are incredibly fortunate. We have easy-to-use tools and real people to help us compare choices and select the Part D plan that’s right for us.

A quick visit to the Medicare Plan Finder website is all you need to get started using the tools that are available to compare plans. So, if you are thinking about reviewing your Medicare Part D plan options now that it is open season – and you really should be thinking about it – here are some easy steps to follow.

Begin by making a list of the medicines you take and the dosage. Next, decide whether you want to get most of your medicines, especially the ones you take regularly, by mail or at a local pharmacy. With that information, a laptop or tablet computer, a phone, and your Medicare card, you are ready to go.

Once on the Medicare Plan Finder website, you will be asked if you want to look broadly at all of the plans available in your area or do a more personalized search which requires providing your name, Zip Code, Medicare Number, date of birth, and the year your Medicare coverage became effective. All of that information can be found on your Medicare card. If you or someone searching for you has never put in your information before, you should use the General Search option.

Continuing with the General Search, you next have to provide some information about yourself and your income and Medicare status as well as the list medicines you take and their dosage. All of this is necessary to help narrow down the list to plans that are right for you.

If you have searched for coverage before, it’s even easier. Simply choose the Personalized Search option and it will automatically reflect the information you provided the last time you compared plans. It will also give you the chance to update the information with any changes or additions.

From that point on, just follow the directions on the screen until you have a number of choices that you are comfortable working with, or in some cases, a single choice that best meets your needs. You can always go back and change the search data to get more or fewer choices.

But the best news is that if you need help or have questions, — day or night, weekday or weekends — you can call 1-800-MEDICARE or 1-800-633-4227 and speak to a live person. They’re available anytime except federal holidays.

Watch the blog for more information this week about the resources available to you if you’d rather not search for a plan online. In the meantime, let me know what your experience has been like with the online tools – both good and bad.



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The Benefits of Part D Coverage for America’s Veterans

This week, we celebrate Veteran’s Day, a time of thanks and appreciation for the sacrifices and service given to all of us by the men and women who are or have been in our armed forces. Providing the highest quality healthcare to our veterans is a national priority, so we wanted to review some important considerations for veterans who are eligible for Medicare.

There is a common but mistaken assumption that all veterans and their families receive health care services through The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or The Department of Defense. In fact, though millions of veterans use the VA system, not all veterans receive care that way. Moreover, except in very limited circumstances, spouses of veterans are not eligible to receive care through the VA system at all. Actually, millions of veterans are enrolled both in Medicare and in the VA Health system and thus receive different but very essential health benefits from each one.

VA encourages veterans who are eligible for Medicare to opt to enroll in Medicare Parts A and B so that they have coverage for medical services received outside the VA system. That is because VA only pays for services provided at a VA facility or a pre-approved non-VA provider. It’s easy then to see then why Medicare coverage may be particularly important, for example, if a beneficiary doesn’t live near a VA facility.

Another fact to keep in mind is that by enrolling in Medicare Part B when a veteran is first eligible, there is protection should VA benefits ever be lost or if any gaps in coverage occur. (More specifics on this are available at www.medicare.gov and www.va.gov.)

Medicare Part D is optional as well, but many veterans choose to supplement their VA coverage with a Medicare Part D plan.  Here are some reasons why:

  1. VA will not fill prescriptions written by providers outside the VA system. If a veteran enrolled in the VA Health System also takes medicine prescribed by a private clinician, Part D provides coverage for the medicine but VA will not. This situation can also arise if a veteran enters a non-VA nursing home or care facility and needs to use their pharmacy; VA will not cover this but Part D will.
  2. Only the veteran (except for CHAMPVA beneficiaries) can use the VA Health system pharmacy, so spouses definitely need to have coverage through Part D or another creditable plan. Creditable coverage means that the plan has been evaluated and found to provide coverage equal to or better than the basic Part D benefit plan.
  3. VA coverage only applies to VA pharmacies and mail order services. If a veteran lives far from a VA facility and needs new medicines suddenly and/or quickly, a local pharmacy would be an important option. Medicare Part D would cover the medicines but VA would not.
  4. Finally, for low income persons, Medicare provides financial help for Medicare Part D beneficiaries through its low-income subsidy (LIS) program. Some veterans who are eligible for this program may find that enrollment in Part D will reduce their drug costs even more.

If you have questions about VA benefits and coverage, contact the VA Health Administration Center at 1-877-222-8387.  If you have questions about Medicare, contact them at 1-800- 633-4227.



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Helping Seniors Speak Out on Medicare Part D

Hello!  My name is Nona Bear and for the last 20+ years I have read about, talked about, studied, and listened to information and ideas about Medicare. One year ago, my “book learning” got upgraded to “hands on” experience, as I became a Medicare beneficiary myself.

My goal in writing this blog is to share my thoughts as both a person on Medicare, as well as, someone who works in health care advocacy. I hope that many of you will reciprocate by sharing your observations, ideas, recommendations and even critiques about how Medicare works for you.

As I write this, I have just come back from getting my prescriptions refilled at the pharmacy. I have great confidence in the pharmacists who are on staff and want to be able to keep getting my medicines from there. When I first chose a Medicare Part D plan, I took the time to review each plan’s list of participating pharmacies so that I could shop where I preferred. That choice was one of several important factors I considered when I selected a plan.

Now, with Medicare Open Enrollment around the corner, I will continue to take full advantage of the options that Medicare Part D provides.  In addition to keeping the pharmacy I want, I will be reviewing plans — including the one I have now — to be sure I get the best deal in terms of premium cost and, most importantly, coverage for the medicines I take. Having a choice means I have power as a consumer and as a patient, which is something I value and want to keep.

How will you take advantage of the options provided by Open Enrollment when it begins on October 15, 2014?  What factors are most important to you?  Where do you get the information you need to make your decision?  Where do you go for help in making your choice?

Please share your experiences and best advice on making the most of Open Enrollment or other things about Medicare that are on your mind. Be sure to check back with us regularly to read your thoughts and hear what other Medicare beneficiaries from around the country are saying.

I hope to hear from you soon!!