By Director of the SHINE Program for the Executive Office of Elder Affairs Cynthia Phillips
Most Medicare beneficiaries have just one opportunity a year to evaluate and change their coverage—and this year it's coming earlier, from October 15th to December 7th. Every year, the “open-enrollment” period allows seniors and others on Medicare to change their part D (prescription-drug) coverage, enroll or change enrollment in a Medicare Advantage program, such as an HMO or PPO plan, and generally reevaluate their healthcare package. Many seniors disregard this opportunity and enroll in the same plans they did the year before, assuming that as long as a plan has not changed dramatically, there is no need to switch. People should review their plans, however, because even if their plans have not changed, their needs may have. If a Medicare beneficiary has been prescribed new medications or dropped old ones, there may be a new (and perhaps less expensive) part D plan that suits him or her better.
While the open enrollment period offers an opportunity for reevaluation, it can also be a confusing time for beneficiaries. Plans inundate seniors with information and those who don’t know the system can end up drowning in a sea of questions and paper. That’s why the Serving Health Information Needs of Elders (SHINE) program will be training “Part D Enrollment Counselors” to help seniors make informed enrollment decisions. The counselors will have a role similar to that of SHINE counselors, who are state-certified guides to health insurance options, but they are focused specifically on Part D. Volunteer SHINE counselors and Part D counselors can sit down with beneficiaries to explain their benefits giving them the options they need to make the choice that works for them. SHINE counselors are conversant in the in the language of the enrollment process, which means they can help find solutions to complex problems by drawing on diverse resources within the healthcare finance network. Anyone interested in becoming a SHINE counselor or Part D Specialist should contact the SHINE program via EOEA’s hotline, 1-800-AGE-INFO (1-800-243-4636; press #3).