Mary is like many seniors, living on a fixed income and sometimes struggling to pay all the bills.
Last November, she spent an hour with a SHIIP counselor and walked out enrolled in a new Medicare Drug Plan that would save her over $600 in the coming year.
Mary isn’t unusual. In fact, last year free counseling by certified SHIIP volunteers saved Orange County seniors over $100,000 during the Open Enrollment Period that runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.
SHIIP stands for Senior Health Insurance Information Program.
Sponsored by the N.C. Department of Insurance, the program has local volunteers who are trained to assist with all types of questions about Medicare. Individuals just turning 65 generally want to understand their options and how to navigate the many brochures and pamphlets that arrive in their mail.
What many seniors don’t realize is that the choices they make when they first join Medicare can be changed each year during Open Enrollment.
All Medicare beneficiaries should give their Medicare choices an annual check-up between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7.
As Mary found, the most common savings are from switching Drug Plans. Even though there hadn’t been any change in the medications she was taking, Mary discovered that the drug plan she used last year had removed one of her medications from their formulary and while her premium stayed at the same low number, the cost of her medications each month had skyrocketed.
If she hadn’t checked into it during the Open Enrollment Period, she wouldn’t have known about the price increase until she got her first refill in January – and by then it would be too late to change plans.
Medicare beneficiaries who have limited incomes and assets may be eligible for Extra Help to pay for their prescription drugs. This federal program assists qualified Medicare beneficiaries with both premiums and co-pays for medications.
If you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan (also called Part C), you can switch between plans during the Open Enrollment Period. Most often beneficiaries choose to do this when their provider is no longer “in-network” with the plan they are enrolled in, or when they receive notice of an increase in the monthly premium they’ll pay.
In Orange County, certified SHIIP Counselors meet with residents to compare their Medicare options for 2017 and provide assistance with enrollment and Extra Help applications. To schedule an appointment in Chapel Hill, call the Seymour Center at 919-968-2070; in Hillsborough, call the Passmore Center at 919-245-2014.
Seniors may also call the NC SHIIP Program in Raleigh for assistance via phone (800-448-1212), or take the do-it-yourself approach at www.medicare.gov (select Find Health and Drug Plans).
Jeanne Chamberlin served as a SHIIP volunteer for four years and is now co-coordinator of the Orange County SHIIP Program. SHIIP is just one of the many services provided at no cost by the Orange County Department of Aging to assist residents with aging gracefully in our community.