Medicare open enrollment begins Saturday

Saying the Affordable Care Act gives seniors with Medicare more benefits, better choices and lower costs, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is encouraging people with Medicare and their families to begin reviewing drug and health plan coverage options for 2012.

The Medicare Open Enrollment Period — which begins earlier this year on Saturday, Oct. 15 — has been expanded to last seven weeks and will end on Dec. 7. This will give seniors and people with disabilities more time to compare and find the best plan that meets their needs.

“People with Medicare can get certain preventive services for free and can get more affordable prescription drugs,” said U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Open enrollment is seniors’ chance to review their Medicare choices and pick the plan that works for them, or keep the plan they have today.”

People with Medicare can begin reviewing the 2012 quality ratings for Medicare Advantage health plans (Part C) and prescription drug plans (Part D) for the upcoming year.

This year CMS is highlighting plans that have achieved an overall quality rating of 5 stars with a high performer or “gold star” icon.

Using Medicare’s Plan Finder available at www.medicare.gov/find-a-plan, people will see the enhanced star ratings for 2012. In addition to the enhanced star ratings for 2012 and new “gold star” icon, Plan Finder users will see an icon showing plans that received a low overall quality rating for the past three years.

“Over the past year, we have worked to improve health coverage choices for people with Medicare, and make it easier for people to find a plan that is both a good value and meets their health care needs,” said CMS Administrator Donald M. Berwick, M.D. “Due to these efforts, people with Medicare have good, meaningful choices for their 2012 plan options.”

In 2012, additional benefits to people with Medicare include lower prescription drug costs through a 50 percent discount on covered brand name drugs in the coverage gap (also referred to as the “doughnut hole”), wellness checkups and access to certain preventive care with no copayments — a benefit that all Medicare Advantage plans will offer starting in 2012.

Resources for Medicare Beneficiaries

People with Medicare, their families and other representatives can review and compare current plan coverage with new plan offerings, using resources such as:

•Visiting www.medicare.gov, where they can get a personalized comparison of costs and coverage of the plans available in their area. The popular Medicare Plan Finder tool has been enhanced for an efficient review of plan choices. Spanish Open Enrollment information is available.

•Calling 1-800-633-4227 for around-the-clock assistance to learn more about coverage options. TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048. Multilingual counseling is available.

•Reviewing the 2012 Medicare & You handbook, which has been mailed to the homes of people with Medicare and is also online at www.medicare.gov/publications/pubs/pdf/10050.pdf.

•Getting one-on-one counseling assistance from the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). Local SHIP contact information may be found:

—At www.medicare.gov/contacts/organization-search-criteria.aspx;

—On the back of the 2011 Medicare & You handbook;

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