by Jonathan Scott
For kids, fall means going back to school. For sports enthusiasts, it means football. For homeowners, it means raking leaves. For folks who receive Medicare, fall means the Open Enrollment Period (OEP).
Open Enrollment Period is known simply as OEP to the counselors who help Medicare recipients try to save money on their Part D prescription drug insurance. It’s a once-a-year opportunity to change policies and runs from Oct.15-Dec. 7.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t enjoy thinking about insurance, especially for prescription drugs. The truth is, as those who counsel during OEP know very well, those who are willing to invest a small amount of time reviewing their Medicare Part D prescription drug insurance can often save money. Sometimes, a lot of money. For certain people who take very expensive medicines, those savings can run even into the tens of thousands of dollars a year.
Currently in North Carolina, there are 20 different Medicare Part D drug policies available. Locating all these companies to determine how their insurance compares based on the medicines you take and where you want to shop for them is an overwhelming task to undertake, even with the possibility of saving money in the long run.
Fortunately, free help is available from counselors across North Carolina in the form of the N.C. Seniors Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP). SHIIP counselors provide no-cost help in evaluating your current coverage and comparing your options. They have at their disposal an easy-to-use online tool provided by Medicare.
The Medicare Plan Finder works like this: A counselor can enter your list of prescriptions, including dosages and frequency, along with your choice of pharmacies. There’s even an option if you order your medicines by mail order. The Plan Finder then returns a list of policies ranked in order of least expensive to most expensive. Then, armed with specific information on the cost of the insurance and an estimated total of what your medicines will cost for the year, you can make an informed choice. If you like, the SHIIP counselor can sign you up right there and then. You can rest assured that SHIIP counselors aren’t in the business of selling and their only interest is what’s best for you.
When you make an appointment with a SHIIP counselor, be sure to bring your Medicare card and a complete list of the medicines you’re currently taking, including dosages and frequency. Sometimes your pharmacy will print out a list for you. Or you can simply bring your current medicines in with you.
You can use the Medicare Plan Finder tool yourself by going to medicare.gov and clicking on the green button that says “Find health and drug plans.” You’ll be instructed to enter your Medicare number with some other basic information. Then you simply enter the medicines you take and your choice of pharmacy.
Important note: When the Plan Finder returns a list of available policies, don’t choose based only on the cost of the monthly premiums. The Plan Finder also calculates the total estimated annual cost of your premium plus the cost of your medicines. Occasionally you can save more in the long run with a policy that has a slightly higher premium.
If you have a Medicare Advantage Plan, you don’t need to worry about reviewing your prescription drug insurance because it’s most likely included in your health plan. Remember, though, that you have the option of changing your Advantage Plan during OEP. Check with a SHIIP counselor to see what plans are available in your county.
Have more questions? Call SHIIP at 855-408-1212 or visit http://www.ncdoi.com/shiip/