MRH Living Well Column: Medicare 101: Learning the basics, getting help | CraigDailyPress.com

MRH Living Well Column: Medicare 101: Learning the basics, getting help

If you are nearing your 65th birthday, signing up for Medicare should be on your to-do list. If you've started the process, you are likely feeling overwhelmed. If so, don't fret—help is available.

"Medicare often confuses people. They get so much information in the mail from various insurance companies. In Colorado alone there are over 40 supplemental plans called Medigap Plans and Medicare Cost Plans, offered by Rocky Mountain Health Plans," said Betsy Packer, Medicare Coordinator for Northwest Colorado Council of Governments.

Understanding the basics is a good place to start, and that's Packer's job. She welcomes people to come to an upcoming information session, or to make an appointment to talk with her individually.

Signing up for Medicare

The first step is simply signing up. Did you know that you must enroll during a certain window or risk receiving penalties like having to wait or paying higher deductibles? You can delay your enrollment without penalty if you or your spouse are currently working and are covered by an active employer-sponsored insurance plan.

"The enrollment period is three months before your 65th birthday, the month of, and three months after," Packer said.

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An open enrollment period to make changes to Medicare drug plans (Part D) is coming up this fall and is scheduled for October 15 to December 7. Packer is holding informational sessions in Craig at the Bell Tower Building Oct. 24 and Nov. 7. Look for times in the paper.

"It's important to review your prescription drug plan to make sure it's still the best plan for you. Drug companies have formularies and sometimes they take RX's off their formulary. If you had any changes in prescriptions or dosage, it might be wise to switch," Packer said.

Packer and volunteers will help you decide which drug plan, out of 21, is right for you—depending on your medication use. For more information on upcoming sessions call Packer at 970-819-6401.

Knowing Your A B Cs

Original Medicare is Part A and Part B. Part A is "hospital insurance" and it covers hospital care, skilled nursing facility, nursing home care, hospice and home health services. Part B is "medical insurance" and it covers medically necessary services including doctor visits to diagnose and treat, preventive services, clinical research, ambulance services, durable medical equipment, mental health care, second opinions before surgery and limited outpatient medications.

"Medicare Part A has no premiums and pays 80% of eligible costs, but there are deductibles. Part B comes with a monthly premium (except for preventive care), with reductions in costs if you meet set income requirements," Packer stated.

Part C plans are offered by private insurance companies at a premium and are called Medicare Advantage plans.

 Cost of Medicare

While Part A is free if you've earned 40 credits (the equivalent of working 10 years) the cost of Part B is currently $134 a month. Of course, Medicare Advantage plans and other supplemental plans are an additional cost. Drug plans range from approximately $17 to $250 a month.

To learn more about the ins and outs of Medicare, attend a free information session sponsored by Memorial Regional Health at 1 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 1. Betsy Packer will answer your questions on who is eligible, the difference between the Parts A, B, C and D, what supplemental plans cover, options for lower-income individuals, open enrollment and Medicare fraud.

Medicare 101

WHEN: 1 p.m., Sept. 1

WHERE: MRH Conference Rooms

INFO: Light refreshments will be served. For more information on Part D open enrollment or generally on Medicare, call Betsy Packer at 970-819-6401.