By Doug Heinlen
"To change my healthcare benefits, or not to change my healthcare benefits?" For millions of Floridians age 65+, that's the question.
Every year, Medicare beneficiaries have an opportunity to alter the type of benefits they receive. This period, called open enrollment, begins Oct. 15 and ends Dec. 7 this year. Any changes you decide to make during open enrollment will take effect beginning Jan. 1, 2013.
Before you decide whether you need to make any changes to your benefits plan, ask yourself the following: Have you become ill or injured this year? Have you been diagnosed with a new medical condition? Have you been prescribed a new medication, or been taken off an old one? If you've answered "yes" to any of those questions, you may need to consider fine-tuning your plan.
To make your most educated decision, evaluate your options using the "Four Cs:" coverage, cost, convenience and customer satisfaction. You can use Medicare's benefit tool at www.Medicare.gov/find-a-plan to review coverage options, determine convenience and compare various plans using Medicare's star-rating system. Finally, make sure you understand all costs, including premiums, deductibles, drug costs and out-of-pocket maximums.
If you have to change your benefits, there are several options available. If you have original Medicare, either Plan A or Plan B, you may decide to switch to a Medicare Advantage Plan. These types of health-care plans are offered by private companies that contract with Medicare to provide you with health coverage. There are several types of 'Advantage' plans, so make sure you find one that is suited to meet your specific needs.
Even if you don't want to change plans, still review your current plan. Medicare plans often change - it isn't uncommon to see price fluctuations or changes in benefits. You may have prescription medication coverage added to or removed from your benefits. Your plan might also stop offering coverage in a certain location. It's also important to remember that, in some cases, dropping a benefits plan means you will not be able to get it back.
No matter what you decide, you do not have to make your choice alone. There are plenty of helpful resources and benefits counseling services available throughout the state. You can call Florida's Elder helpline at 1-800-963-5337 to schedule an appointment with a SHINE (Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders) volunteer. You can also visit www.aarp.org/medicare to receive the latest Medicare information.
Doug Heinlen is AARP Florida president.