Only two days remain for Medicare recipients to change plans, if need be
by Patrick McCreless
pmccreless@annistonstar.com
Dec 06, 2012 | 3679 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sebrena Foster, left, explains to Naomi Moore and Lois McMurray the benefits to changing their Medicare plans Wednesday. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
Sebrena Foster, left, explains to Naomi Moore and Lois McMurray the benefits to changing their Medicare plans Wednesday. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
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After just two years on Medicare, the cost of Shirley Williams’ prescription drug plan increased more than she could afford to pay.

Facing a lack of medication, the Anniston resident decided to get some help in switching plans from the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission on Wednesday. Williams now has the coverage she wants for another year.

“Everybody should have their drug plans checked up on so they can save on their drugs,” Williams said.

Medicare recipients have until the end of Friday to change their health plans to possibly get better deals. With recent federal health care reforms improving some drug coverage, those who switch now might see more savings than ever next year. Medicare recipients who do not switch plans by Friday will have to wait until October 2013 for another chance.

“It helped a lot,” Williams said of her drug plan switch. “I prefer name brand drugs instead of the generic so they helped me get that.”

Williams was referring to commission employees who help local Medicare residents every year in finding the most cost-effective drug plans for their needs. Medicare is the federal program that funds health care for millions of elderly and disabled patients. Though Medicare helps pay for the plans, each one is administered by private companies. As a result, plan configurations and drug costs can change from year to year.

“We encourage everyone to view each plan each year,” said Sebrena Foster, area director of the State Health Insurance Program, administered by the planning commission.

Foster was busy Wednesday at the Anniston Senior Center, helping residents find the best Medicare plans.

“We help to compare plans to make sure the coverage they have now is sufficient,” Foster said. “If they find that their coverage isn’t the best, they change plans.”

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services or CMS, federal health care reforms enacted in 2010, known as the Affordable Care Act, will save many Medicare recipients more money next year through a provision that lessens the prescription-drug-coverage gap known as “the doughnut hole.” In 2013, the health care law will provide people with Medicare in the doughnut hole with greater savings, increasing discounts to 53 percent of the cost of brand-name drugs and 21 percent of the cost of generic drugs. Savings on Medicare coverage of prescription drugs will gradually increase until 2020, when the doughnut hole will be closed.

Medicare recipients are considered in the doughnut hole when they reach their coverage limit and must pay the full price of prescription drugs out-of-pocket. Coverage resumes once the recipient reaches the program’s catastrophic coverage threshold.

The CMS states that the Affordable Care Act’s efforts to close the doughnut hole to date have saved 5.8 million Medicare recipients $5.1 billion on drug costs. Alabama Medicare recipients have saved about $68.5 million on drug costs to date.

Foster said the efforts to close the doughnut hole have helped many residents in the area.

“Yes, they are not paying the total price for what’s being offered,” Foster said.

Medicare recipients who still want to change their plans can call 1-800-MEDICARE for help or visit www.medicare.gov. Also, the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission will hold addition Medicare help sessions from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. today and Friday at its office in Quintard Tower, Suite 300 at 1130 Quintard Ave.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.
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