As individuals retire or age into Medicare, their insurance situation can change dramatically. There are a multitude of options open to those with Medicare. The terms are different, the prices are different, the products offered are dramatically different each year.
The purpose of this column is to give those who are eligible for Medicare, or soon to be eligible for Medicare, some understanding of their insurance options and how it could impact their health and finances.
These questions and answers are meant as a guide to help you understand the complex questions you are now thinking about. Each individual's specific situation may create a different solution. You shouldn't necessarily do what your friends, family and neighbors do.
Q: How do I research my insurance alternatives? I get stuff in the mail, but there must be some unbiased resources and information?
A: I love to talk with individuals who want to do research and figure out alternatives, so I will give you some resources you can use to help you make your insurance decisions.
The annual Open Enrollment Period begins Oct. 15 and goes until Dec. 7. This is the period when you can switch your Medicare insurance products to something different. The first resource I would recommend is the website, www.medicare.gov. This is the website the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) designed to help everyone with Medicare. This website has lots of useful information about Medicare, not just Part D. You can research your physicians, your hospitals, your coverage and the plans available to you in your area. There is an e-version of the "Medicare & You Handbook" there as well. This is one of my most favorite and most used websites.
You can also call 1-800-medicare to ask questions (1-800-633-4227). This is a 24-hour, seven days a week call center that can answer all your questions about Medicare and your coverage. This call center is another useful tool to finding out the answers to many of your Medicare-related questions.
You can also refer to some of the many State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) Counselors. In New York state we call these counselors, HIICAP (Health Insurance Information Counseling Assistance Program) counselors. These HIICAP trained individuals have unbiased information about all your insurance options. You can reach a HIICAP counselor by calling your local Office for the Aging.
On Thursday, Amie Libby will be giving a free training to help people maneuver the web and www.medicare.gov. Libby is a service coordinator who works for Lutheran Senior Housing.
She will be giving this free training to anyone who wants to better understand and interpret the data available on the Internet related to all Medicare topics. For more information on this program or to make reservations call 720-9122.
Janell Sluga is a geriatric care manager certified and works for Senior Life Matters, a program of Lutheran Senior Housing, and has worked in Chautauqua County with seniors for more than 18 years. She is HIICAP (Health Insurance Information, Counseling & Assistance Program) counselor-trained by Office for the Aging. She does not sell insurance or represent any insurance company. She is an unbiased source of insurance and education to help seniors choose the best option for them.
You may submit questions to be answered in later columns to Janell Sluga at Senior Life Matters, 737 Falconer St., Jamestown, NY 14701, or call 716-720-9797, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please remember that not all questions can be answered in this format, but as many as can be, will be.