MEDICARE BENEFICIARIES SHOULD ACT NOW TO MEET THEIR PRESCRIPTION DRUG COVERAGE AND HEALTH PLAN NEEDS FOR 2008
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) today continued to encourage all Medicare beneficiaries to review their current health care coverage and ensure they are in a plan that will best meet their needs in 2008. Beneficiaries who wish to enroll for the first time or change their coverage for 2008 should do so as soon as possible to ensure a smooth transition in the New Year. The annual open enrollment period began on November 15th and runs through December 31, 2007. In addition, for Medicare Advantage (MA) plans only, beneficiaries can make one change in enrollment -- enrolling in a new plan, changing plans or canceling a plan -- between January 1 and March 31, 2008 (though beneficiaries cannot join or drop Medicare drug coverage during this time).
“This is the time when our Medicare beneficiaries need to assess their own health care needs and review the many resources CMS has available to help them make the best choice for plan coverage in 2008,” said Kerry Weems, CMS Acting Administrator. “It’s important to compare plan offerings for 2008 and select the plan that best meets your needs.”
Since September, Medicare officials and national and local partners have been working hard to ensure that beneficiaries, their families and caregivers are aware of and have access to the resources CMS has developed to help them review their coverage and options. Under the theme Working Together for Better Health, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, Weems, and hundreds of partner organizations have been participating in Medicare’s Mobile Office Tour (MOT). The bus tour is visiting communities across the nation to share information about the available resources and the importance of enrolling into a prescription drug plan.
To date, the MOT has visited 100 cities and 23 states plus the District of Columbia. News coverage of the tour helped spread the word on the open enrollment period to beneficiaries who were not able to attend an MOT-related event. In October, CMS unveiled an enhanced online Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Finder on www.medicare.gov. The Plan Finder provides beneficiaries with more information and greater clarity on available drug plans, including estimated out-of-pocket costs, and pharmacy networks. Since November 1, 2007, www.medicare.gov has averaged 2.2 million page views daily. In November, CMS further enhanced the online plan finder by adding a plan ratings system that provides users with an interactive tool that includes “five-star” quality ratings of drug plans’ performance on such categories as customer service and drug pricing.
Since the beginning of the fall open enrollment period on November 15, over 115,000 beneficiaries have successfully enrolled online into a new plan or switched plans; 35 percent more than at the corresponding time last year.
CMS is continuing to take steps to educate, inform and protect beneficiaries, including:
- Targeting areas of the country with high numbers of limited-income beneficiaries by Zip Code and working closely with local partners to help beneficiaries learn about and apply for the extra help.
- Working with partners, including State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs), Area Agencies on Aging, and local community organizations to reach and enroll eligible beneficiaries.
- Ensuring a smooth transition for beneficiaries in drug plans who are eligible for extra help and who are either being reassigned into a new plan, or have chosen a plan that previously had no premium but will now have a premium higher than the LIS subsidy amount. These beneficiaries received letters explaining steps they can take to remain in their plan by paying a small premium and a list of all the zero premium plans available in their community.
- Making information available at www.medicare.gov where beneficiaries can see all the health and prescription plans available in their area. Users can compare plans based on costs, healthcare coverage, customer service and quality of each plan.
· Ensuring that people who don’t have computer access can get the same information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE, or 1-800-633-4227 or by reviewing the information that was included in the Medicare & You handbook that was mailed earlier in the Fall.
· Providing face-to-face information across the nation at local SHIP offices where beneficiaries can get free personalized counseling or attend one of the thousands of local enrollment events taking place now through December 2007.
· Providing tools and information to beneficiaries to protect themselves from people who may be looking to commit fraud or steal personal information. Beneficiaries should:
· Call 1-800-MEDICARE. TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048.
· The HHS Office of the Inspector General Hotline at 1-800-HHS-TIPS. TTY users should call 1-800-377-4950, for identity theft. For fraud, call 1-800-447-8477. TTY users should call 1-800-377-4950.
· The Federal Trade Commission’s ID Theft Hotline is 1-877-438-4338. TTY users should call 1-866-653-4261.
· If the suspicious activity turns out to be fraud, you could be eligible for a reward up to $1,000.
To take maximum advantage of the assistance available from Medicare, beneficiaries and their family members should follow these tips before calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227, TTY: 1-877-486-2048) during the current open enrollment period for Medicare health and prescription drug plans:
- Write down in advance any questions you want to ask along with information about your current health or prescription drug plan;
- Have your current medications in front of you;
- Have your Medicare card since you’ll need your Medicare enrollment number to access the help line’s information; and
- Avoid the help line’s busiest days, Mondays and Tuesdays, and the peak call hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily.”
Medicare has more than 3,000 customer service operators available in eight toll-free call centers located across the United States who are prepared to provide help in English and Spanish.
CMS is also airing the December 2007 public service television program, My Health. My Medicare., a program that focuses on the help available during the open enrollment period. This edition profiles beneficiary volunteers at local SHIPs and includes a message to caregivers from CMS Acting Administrator Weems and Josefina Carbonell, Assistant Secretary for Aging in the Department of Health and Human Services. This program is part of Medicare’s grassroots outreach and education effort. Information about My Health. My Medicare. Viewers should contact their local cable operator for the time and channel to see My Health. My Medicare. in their area.
“Beneficiaries should not wait any longer to review their drug coverage. Now is the time to make this very important decision that will provide peace of mind throughout the next year,” said Weems. “CMS has worked diligently to provide readily accessible information for beneficiaries, their families and caregivers, and we encourage everyone to take part and help us inform beneficiaries about this important new benefit.”