Review Medicare coverage during open enrollment

Seniors, if you’ve shoved your 2015 Medicare & You handbook underneath a pile of junk mail, it’s time to drag it out.

The Medicare open enrollment period — which started Oct. 15 and ends Dec. 7 — is the time to make changes to your current health care plan for the coming year.

And even if you want to stick with what you have, it’s still a good idea to review the details and make sure there are no unexpected costs, experts say.

Reviewing your Medicare coverage plan once a year is a necessary part of making sure you are taken care of financially, said Beth Richardson, vice president of Health Services for Lenbrook, a continuing care retirement community in Buckhead.

If that process seems overwhelming, Georgia offers a free service that will guide you through it step by step.

Free personalized counseling is available through GeorgiaCares, the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), at the toll-free help line, 1-866-552-4464. Choose option 4 and your call will be routed to an area agency where you can speak with a trained counselor. In addition to staff, there are more than 100 volunteers to help seniors decipher their current Medicare coverage and evaluate changes for 2015.

GeorgiaCares state coordinator Christine Williams encourages seniors and their families to seek help in making good health care decisions for the coming year.

“Just like any other type of insurance, you need to go through it. You may have had changes to your health in the past year, so you want to make sure the plan you have is adequate for next year,” Williams said.

In addition to telephone counseling, volunteers will give educational presentations at various locations during the open enrollment period, and seniors also can make appointments to come in for free one-on-one help.

At Lenbrook, Richardson said residents were given a Medicare primer, and staff will offer assistance in evaluating health care coverage, particularly the prescription drug plans where prices and availability of medicines can fluctuate.

Here are some important checks to make during the open enrollment period:

  • Know what your benefits are. It sounds simple, but many don’t understand what Medicare covers, Richardson said. She recommends that seniors get a detailed printout and give a copy to their adult children, too.

If your current plan will no longer cover the prescription drugs you’re going to need for the next year, it might be worth changing to another policy. You can compare various plans and the medications they cover by going to

  • Know your costs. Medicare doesn’t cover 100 percent of anything, which is why there’s Medigap and other supplemental insurance. Check for any changes in your 2015 policies, especially if you have the Medicare Advantage plan through a private insurance company. Even slight increases in deductibles or copays can add up throughout the year.
  • Know who will accept your plan. Check to see if your doctors, preferred hospitals and pharmacies are still in-network for your health care coverage. Physicians can and do drop out of provider lists because the program can be burdensome and reimbursement is poor, Richardson said.

If you don’t make any changes, the 2015 version of your current Medicare benefits plan will automatically kick in Jan. 1.

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