Open Enrollment for Medicare began on Oct.15 and will run until Dec. 7. Each year, this is the only time customers can change their plans with the program.
The Seniors' Health Insurance Information Program, or SHIIP, helps to provide information on different cost benefits to senior citizens throughout Medicare's enrollment period.
SHIIP has coordinators in each United States county and works with the Orange County Aging Department and the North Carolina Department of Insurance to find plans that best suit each individual's needs.
“The Department of Insurance trains and certifies volunteers who help people in their community to understand Medicare and to make good choices about the Medicare plans for themselves,” Orange County SHIIP coordinator Jeanne Chamberlin said.
Chamberlin said there are over 65 different plans available for people with Medicare and SHIIP can see as many as 600 people during the seven weeks of Open Enrollment.
She said of these 600 people, about 400 usually make changes to their plans. Chamberlin also said it's not uncommon to see people saving anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 by updating their plans.
She added that it is essential for every person on Medicare to check their plan during the seven-week period.
“There are these Medicare advantage plans that older adults can sign up for, and some of these plans have additional benefits, such as dental, vision or fitness,” Ciara Zachary, an assistant professor in the Department of Health and Policy Management at UNC, said.
Zachary said she teaches classes that focus on U.S. healthcare policies, including Medicare.
Chamberlin also said there are consequences when one doesn't update their plan, such as medication cost increases or certain medications not being covered. She said switching medications or paying extra as a result of missing the Dec. 7 deadline might leave elderly people feeling confused.
“I’m trying to make sure they understand what they’re seeing on the news and in the radio ads, what’s real and what’s marketing or sales,” Chamberlin said. “People get bombarded with information they don’t really know what to do with.”
The SHIIP program also offers special events to encourage Medicare plan review during Open Enrollment, including a “Medicare Mythbusters!” class and an event at Cedar Grove Community Center to help people in the area, Chamberlin said.
“Life changes every year so sometimes a plan that was good for you last year may not be good for you this year,” David Anderson, a Duke University doctoral student in the Department of Population Health Sciences, said.
Anderson said risk tolerance or the ability to absorb expenses are the main reasons people may change their plans. He also said people may seek to change their deductible costs.
This year will be the first year that the Inflation Reduction Act, which was passed in September, will influence prescription drug prices.
The plan will specifically target lowering drug prices within Medicare and will increase access to free vaccines.
“I’m excited to hopefully see in the future the Biden Administration’s Inflation Reduction Act that was recently passed, how that’s going to impact prescription drug costs for people with Medicare in the future,” Zachary said.
Citizens can meet with certified counselors online or in person at the Seymour Center in Chapel Hill or the Passmore Center in Hillsborough. Free sessions provided by SHIIP offer unbiased education and assistance in one-hour time slots.
Booking information can be found on the Orange County website.
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