Time Runs Out for Medicare Selections, January Will Be Too Late for Most Changes, Allsup Says

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About 7 percent of Medicare beneficiaries – 3 million people – historically look to change plans during January-March open enrollment period; however, there is no open enrollment in 2011

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Historically, about 7 percent of Medicare beneficiaries have made changes to their Medicare coverage during the beginning-of-the-year open enrollment period

People who want to switch their Medicare coverage for 2011 have just a few weeks left in the Medicare annual enrollment period, which ends Dec. 31, according to Allsup, a nationwide provider of Medicare plan selection services and Social Security disability representation. Otherwise, they may be stuck with a Medicare plan that does not provide the coverage they need because the Jan. 1-March 31 open enrollment period for making changes has been eliminated.

“Historically, about 7 percent of Medicare beneficiaries have made changes to their Medicare coverage during the beginning-of-the-year open enrollment period,” said Adrienne Muralidharan, senior product specialist for the Allsup Medicare Advisor® (http://medicare.allsup.com). The Allsup Medicare Advisor is an impartial Medicare plan selection service that helps people understand and choose the most affordable and appropriate Medicare coverage for their healthcare needs. (Allsup is not a Medicare plan provider.)

Previously, during the three-month open enrollment period, people had been allowed to switch plans as long as they were choosing like-to-like plans. For example, switching from one Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage to another Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage. Or, switching from one prescription drug (Part D) plan to another Part D plan in combination with traditional Medicare.

However, a provision in the new healthcare law has eliminated open enrollment and replaced it with a shorter and limited disenrollment period for 2011.

Now, during the disenrollment period, which runs for just six weeks from Jan. 1 – Feb. 14, beneficiaries’ only option is to disenroll from a Medicare Advantage plan and enroll in traditional Medicare (along with Medicare Part D, if their Medicare Advantage plan included prescription drug coverage).

Switching Options Limited as of 2011

About 2,000 Medicare Advantage plans are offered nationwide, with most people having about two dozen plans to choose from in their area. Medicare Advantage plans provide the same coverage as traditional Medicare, with hospital services (Part A) and medical services (Part B). Many plans also offer prescription drug coverage and other benefits such as dental and vision. Nearly 12 million people relied on these plans during 2010. In addition, about 1,100 Medicare Part D plans are offered nationwide, with most people having more than 30 plans to choose from in their area.

Each year Medicare Advantage and Part D plans can change their provisions and premiums. Plans also can be discontinued or eliminated. In fact, about 200 Medicare Advantage plans and more than 450 stand-alone Part D plans were eliminated for 2011.

People whose plans were eliminated for 2011 should have been notified that their plan was being discontinued. In some cases, individuals who do not take any action by Dec. 31 may find themselves without Medicare coverage. Others may be automatically enrolled in traditional Medicare and, if they had prescription drug coverage, automatically placed in a Part D plan.

“If you are enrolled in traditional Medicare at year-end and you don’t like it, you no longer have the option of switching to a Medicare Advantage plan during open enrollment. Similarly, if you are in a Medicare Advantage plan or a Part D plan and want to choose a different one that is perhaps more affordable or better meets your needs, you no longer have these options once January arrives,” Muralidharan said. “This is going to be an unwelcome and potentially costly surprise come the first of the year for people who assumed they could tweak their plans.”

Time Runs Out for Making Changes

According to Muralidharan, people have limited time to make changes during the last few weeks of annual enrollment. “This is the time of year when we receive frantic calls for help because of the complexity and confusion people can experience with their Medicare coverage,” Muralidharan said. “They appreciate having an objective specialist help them evaluate their specific needs and simplify their Medicare selection process.”

The first step is to determine if you should consider changing your coverage. “If your plan for this year was eliminated, then it’s absolutely crucial you take a closer look at your options and make sure you understand your selection for 2011,” Muralidharan said.

Allsup provides a Medicare Annual Enrollment Checklist to help people evaluate their circumstances and Medicare needs for 2011 (available at http://www.allsup.com/Portals/4/medicare-enrollment-checklist.pdf).

“If you understand why you should consider changing your plan, for example, because your health condition has changed or your prescription drug needs changed, that’s a good first step in understanding what’s going to be important to you in selecting new coverage,” Muralidharan added.

For an evaluation of your Medicare options, please call an Allsup Medicare Advisor specialist at (888) 271-1173 or go to http://medicare.allsup.com.

ABOUT ALLSUP
Allsup is a nationwide provider of Social Security disability, Medicare and Medicare Secondary Payer compliance services for individuals, employers and insurance carriers. Founded in 1984, Allsup employs more than 700 professionals who deliver specialized services supporting people with disabilities and seniors so they may lead lives that are as financially secure and as healthy as possible. The company is based in Belleville, Ill., near St. Louis. For more information, visit http://www.Allsup.com.

The information provided is not intended as a substitute for legal or other professional services. Legal or other expert assistance should be sought before making any decision that may affect your situation.

Contact:
Mary Jung            
(773) 429-0940            

Rebecca Ray
(800) 854-1418 ext 5065

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Mary Jung
for Allsup
(773) 429-0940
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Rebecca Ray
Allsup
800-854-1418 ext. 5065
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