What should Medicare enrolled seniors and individuals living with disabilities be doing to take advantage of the Medicare Part D open enrollment period?

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What should Medicare enrolled seniors and individuals living with disabilities be doing to take advantage of the Medicare Part D open enrollment period?

Medicare Part D is critical to protecting the health of Louisiana’s seniors, as well as nationwide seniors, as it provides significant cost-saving benefits for much-needed medications.

It is important for seniors to know that the open enrollment period allowing them to make any changes to their plans for 2015 will end on December 7. All Medicare recipients should take the time to review their current Medicare plans, including their prescription drug coverage through Medicare Part D.

Here are some tips for comparing plans:

  • List all current medications and dosages.
  • Identify any current prescriptions that are not covered and will incur out-of-pocket costs.
  • Compare total monthly out-of-pocket costs when reviewing different plans.
  • Be mindful of high deductibles (the amount paid before insurance coverage takes over) and copays/coinsurance (the amount paid at the time of purchase). Copays can add up, especially when generic versions of a drug are not available.

Medicare Part D provides seniors with tremendous benefits. But it is important to educate yourself and know your options. Take the time to review your current plan and other plan options and make the best choice for you. 

Howard L. Rogers, III
Executive Director, NOCOA

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Howard L. Rogers, III
Executive Director, NOCOA

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Howard Rodgers began his career with elder care when he was hired to run a New Orleans senior citizens center in 1967. Thirty-five years later, he is still working with senior citizens as the executive director of the New Orleans Council on Aging.

Rodgers served as assistant director of the Carrollton Hollygrove Senior Center from 1977 until 1984, when he became senior center coordinator for the New Orleans Council on Aging. He then returned to serve as director of the Carrollton Hollygrove Senior Center from 1900 to 1990 following the retirement of his mentor.

In 2010, Rodgers received the Geneva Mathiasen Award from the National Council on Aging due to his significant contributions to the National Council on Aging and its programs. He was also named a 2011 Role Model by the Young Leadership Council of New Orleans.

Rodgers received his Bachelor’s degree from Loyola University and his master’s degree in social work from Southern University of New Orleans (SUNO). He also taught for four years in the SUNO school of social work.

As executive director, Rodgers runs 13 senior centers helping up to 10,000 New Orleans seniors a year, as well as the area’s Meals on Wheels program, which provides 1,600 hot meals a day to seniors.

The New Orleans Council on Aging is a private, non-profit corporation which serves as the Area Agency on Aging for Orleans Parish. The agency is responsible for insuring that a comprehensive and coordinated assortment of social, recreational, educational and nutritional services are provided to persons aged 60 and over in New Orleans.  

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What should Medicare enrolled seniors and individuals living with disabilities be doing to take advantage of the Medicare Part D open enrollment period?

The expansion of Medicare to include prescription medicines has made all the difference for seniors’ health and the overall success of the program has further been a boost for the Medicare programs own fiscal standing. When Part D was enacted in 2006, a positive shift occurred that enabled many older Americans to access needed treatments at a price they could afford. Part D continues to provide greater access and has extended and improved countless lives with affordable premiums and co-pays.

We are once again in the midst of open enrollment for Medicare Part D and seniors across the country are weighing their options for a plan that best meets their needs. While the Part D program is still relatively new, older Americans are savvy shoppers and exercise great care and wisdom in their purchasing behavior. Identifying health care coverage requires the same due diligence that is applied to other activities, and with the window closing to choose or change one’s plan by December 7, now is the time to act.

A recent survey found that nearly nine of ten seniors were satisfied with their Medicare Part D coverage. The same survey found an overwhelming majority of respondents, 86 percent, reporting satisfaction with their plans and that premiums and co-pays are affordable. Further, the findings noted, “two in three seniors (67 percent) say without Part D they would be unable to fill all of the prescriptions their doctors prescribe.”

Further, the Part D program’s fiscal health means good news for seniors. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced projected average monthly Part D premiums will be $32 in 2015, just $1 more than in 2014.

The ways Medicare-enrolled seniors and individuals living with disabilities can take advantage of the Part D program are a plenty. The Medicare.gov website is a user-friendly resource that is full of information to help determine which plan is right for you and the costs beneficiaries will incur under certain covered medications. The website will help you or your loved one ensure they are getting the best deal and the most benefits out of the program. Additionally, the Seniors Speak Out Medicare webpage is an additional resource – including a state by state mapped analysis of plans.

President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill that established Medicare back in 1965 and once said, “So each good American should accept this personal challenge to ask every person they know over 65, ‘Have you registered? If not, register at once.’” President Johnson’s advice is worth reminding each eligible Medicare Part D participant of the program and how to best meet their health care needs.

Good health is something to be thankful for this holiday season and as open enrollment comes to a close I hope those eligible for the Medicare Part D program take a worthy look at this helpful option.  

Bob Blancato
Executive Director, NANASP

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Bob Blancato
Executive Director, NANASP

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Bob Blancato is the Executive Director of the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs. He is also President of Matz, Blancato and Associates. He is the National Coordinator of the 3000-member Elder Justice Coalition. Bob has more than 20 years of federal government service, including 13 years on the senior staff of the House Select Committee on Aging and a presidential appointment to be the Executive Director of the 1995 White House Conference on Aging. Bob is currently on the Boards of the American Society on Aging and the National Council on Aging. In December 2012, Bob was reappointed to the Commonwealth Council on Aging. In January 2013, Bob was selected to be the Volunteer State President of AARP in Virginia. He holds a Masters in Public Administration from American University and a Bachelor of Arts from Georgetown University.
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What should Medicare enrolled seniors and individuals living with disabilities be doing to take advantage of the Medicare Part D open enrollment period?

One of the most consumer-friendly attributes of the Medicare Part D prescription drug program is the ample selection of coverage plans available to enrollees in every state and, by extension, the affordability of high-quality prescription drug coverage made possible by plans competing to offer the greatest value.

The 2014 Part D open enrollment period, which continues through December 7, is an opportunity for older Americans to review their current Part D coverage and compare it to the other options available.  Fortunately, Medicare makes this easy.  For seniors comfortable utilizing the Internet, going to www.medicare.gov/find-a-plan begins the process in which beneficiaries can type in the medications they’re taking and retrieve a list of plans in their states that cover those drugs with full information on monthly premiums, deductibles and co-pays. 

And for those who would rather speak to a live human being, calling 1-800-633-4227 links beneficiaries with a Medicare customer service representative who can go over plan choices over the phone.  Many seniors have also relied on assistance from kids, grandkids or other friends, neighbors or family members to help choose the best available drug plan.

The point is, it doesn’t cost anything to compare Medicare Part D plans.  It’s convenient to do, and it’s a recommended activity for beneficiaries to ensure that their medications are covered at the most affordable price. 

The open enrollment period is also a good time for Medicare beneficiaries to tell their elected officials how much they value the program.  Like any government program, Medicare Part D is vulnerable to change and, in fact, federal officials have proposed regulations that would have, among other impacts, limited the number of plans available to enrollees.

That’s why Washington, DC needs to hear from seniors that they value a program that has seen average monthly premiums remain largely unchanged since 2010, provides outstanding ease of use, and that offers low-income assistance to beneficiaries with limited resources.  The Part D program consistently receives approval ratings from seniors in the 85-90 percent range in annual surveys conducted by the Medicare Today coalition.

So, in the final days of this year’s open enrollment period, it’s important that seniors act both as smart consumers in choosing the best Part D plan for their needs and circumstances and also as voters, letting decisionmakers know how important this program is to their lives and health.

Mary R. Grealy
President , HLC

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Mary R. Grealy
President , HLC

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Mary Grealy is president of the Healthcare Leadership Council, a coalition of chief executives of the nation’s leading healthcare companies and organizations.  The HLC advocates consumer-centered healthcare reform, emphasizing the value of private sector innovation.  It is the only health policy advocacy group that represents all sectors of the healthcare industry.  She was appointed to the position in August 1999.

Ms. Grealy has an extensive background in healthcare policy.  She has led important initiatives on the uninsured, improving patient safety and quality, protecting the privacy of patient medical information and reforming the medical liability laws.  She testifies frequently before Congress and federal regulatory agencies.

She is a frequent public speaker on health issues and has been ranked many times by Modern Healthcare as one of the 100 Most Powerful People in Healthcare.

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What should Medicare enrolled seniors and individuals living with disabilities be doing to take advantage of the Medicare Part D open enrollment period?

Medicare Part D is a magnificent asset that protects the health of both seniors and individuals living with disabilities across this great the nation. Since enacted, this widely loved program has shown huge cost-saving benefits. It delivers much needed medications at a significantly lower cost than originally projected.

While most people will not make any changes to their plans for 2015, the open enrollment period, which ends on December 7, is a time when all Medicare recipients should take the time to review their current plans, including their prescription drug coverage. Medicare Part D has a proven record of providing tremendous value at affordable rates.

When comparing plans, it is a good idea to start by listing all current medications and dosages; this will help in comparing the approximately 30 plans from which the average consumer has to choose. Before focusing on the price of a new plan, one should make sure all of their current prescriptions are covered; otherwise out-of-pocket costs can become burdensome. It is also important to remember that a plan that works for one person may not necessarily be the best for another.

It is the total monthly out-of-pocket costs that should be compared. The overall cost of the Medicare Part D plan consists of three expenses: the monthly premiums, deductibles, and the copays/coinsurance. The average monthly premium will be about $35 per month in 2015 and the premiums won’t change for the year, but the other costs are where Part D recipients must be careful. High deductibles (the amount paid before insurance coverage takes over) and copays/coinsurance (the amount paid at the time of purchase) can add up, especially when generic versions of a drug are not available. This is where preparation and opportunity collide.

I leave you with this: Attention seniors and those with qualifying disabilities. Medicare Part D is a wonderful plan with amazing benefits. But, as with anything, educate yourselves and be aware of your options. The lowest price plan may come with higher than anticipated costs. Spend the time (and do it soon) to review your current plan, weigh your options, and make the best choice for you. Remember, open enrollment ends on Sunday, December 7 (Pearl Harbor Day), 2014.

Austin Curry
Executive Director, Elder Care Advocacy of Florida

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Austin Curry
Executive Director, Elder Care Advocacy of Florida

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Austin Curry of Tampa, Florida, is the Executive Director of Elder Care Advocacy of Florida, and a member of the Government Affairs Committee, Florida Rural Health Association. 

In addition to being the 2006 C. Colburn Hardy Older Advocate Awardee, Mr. Curry has served in a variety of positions including Former Senate President and CEO of the Florida Silver-Haired Legislature; Trustee, Hillsborough County Hospital Authority, and Director, Health Council of West Central Florida.  He was appointed as a delegate to the 2005 White House Conference on Aging, and has received various prestigious awards and honors including Outstanding Florida Council on Aging member, and the Rhoda Jennings Distinguished Elder Advocate.  Mr. Curry is a practicing Professional Futurist; a Member of the Florida Council on Aging; the National Council on Aging; the Southern Gerontological Society; the Association of Gerontology in Higher Education, and the Florida Rural Health Association.

Mr. Curry has authored several publications including: Quality Assurance for Success; Quality Healthcare is a Prescription for Life; Planning Today for Retirement Tomorrow,and Retiring in a Senior Community.

He is the Retired Vice President of Equifax as well as serving as the Director of Customer Service, the Director, Member Relations, the Vice President, Financial Institutions, and the Vice President for Quality Assurance.  Mr. Curry is a Veteran of Foreign Wars, having served in the United States Air Force, and attended the University of Oklahoma, the University of Tampa, and the University of Miami with a Major in Business Administration and Minors in English and Political Science.

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What should Medicare enrolled seniors and individuals living with disabilities be doing to take advantage of the Medicare Part D open enrollment period?

In many cultures, elders are revered. Villagers turn to them for wisdom and guidance. Because of their long lives, they've learned lessons that can, and should, be passed down to future generations. Sometimes called the "grandparent advantage" elders possess the ability to recycle human knowledge, understanding, culture and experience to benefit future generations.

The Medicare Part D open enrollment period offers a multitude of opportunities for older adults to embrace their role as wise elders. This period provides not only an opportunity for older adults to take charge of their own care but to also be role models for others as they demonstrate personal responsibility.

What can older adults, our elders, do? Here are a few suggestions.

  • Use the open enrollment period as catalyst for conversations with children and youth in your life. Talk with them about the importance of health care. Discuss what insurance means to help them start thinking in a way that will help them build good life-long habits. Enhance the experience by turning it into a walking conversation by strolling in a park or through the neighborhood.
  • Demonstrate wise consumer traits. Talk about how to review and weigh options. Discuss the shortcomings and strengths of various plans and how to hone in on what’s most important based on individual situations.
  • Use your experience to start a conversation with other family members about their health care. Do they have health care? If they do, are they satisfied? Have they looked at alternatives? Be sure to encourage them to sign up during this enrollment time if they don't have coverage or change if they aren't satisfied. 
  • Let your younger friends and family members know it’s okay to ask for help. If you’re struggling or feel overwhelmed with options, reach out to someone from another generation who may have skills that complement your own. Sometimes younger people, who usually have incredible technology skills, don't get singled out and elevated for their knowledge and skills. Build a bridge by asking a grandchild, nephew, niece or neighbor to help you navigate the on line options as you are making your decision. You'll get the information you need and your young helper will feel good about what they did and having their skills affirmed.

Take advantage of the open enrollment period by encouraging seniors to be elders using their experience to benefit future, healthy generations. 

Donna Butts
Executive Director, Generations United

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Donna Butts
Executive Director, Generations United

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Donna Butts is Executive Director, Donna Buttsthe Executive Director of Generations United, a position she has held since 1997. For more than 30 years, Butts has worked tirelessly to promote the well-being of children, youth and older adults through nonprofit organizations across the country and around the world. She began her career in her home state of Oregon as a youth worker with the YWCA, where she worked one-on-one with teens and saw the positive effects of intergenerational programs firsthand.

Butts has held leadership positions with Covenant House, a New York-based international youth serving organization, and the National 4-H Council. She served as the Executive Director for the National Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Parenting and Prevention before taking the helm of Generations United.

An internationally sought-after speaker, author and advocate, Butts frequently speaks on intergenerational connections, grandparents raising grandchildren and policies effective across the lifespan. Her commentary has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal. She has been interviewed on the TODAY Show, National Public Radio and ABC News, and was invited by the United Nations to sit on four expert panels most recently on intergenerational solidarity and social cohesion in preparation for the 2014 20th anniversary of the International Year or the Family.

In 2004, Butts was honored with the National Council on Aging's Jack Ossofsky for Leadership, Creativity, and Innovation in Programs and Services for Older Persons. She served as a 2005 delegate to the White House Conference on Aging. A respected author, she has written countless articles, chapters and publications regarding the welfare of children, youth and older adults.

Butts received her undergraduate degree from Marylhurst College and is a graduate of Stanford University’s Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders. She is a former chair of the board of the International Consortium of Intergenerational Programmes (ICIP) and serves on the boards of the National Human Services Assembly Journal of Intergenerational Relationships. She was recognized twice by The Nonprofit Times as one of the Top 50 most powerful and influential nonprofit executives in the nation in 2012 and 2013, and received the Seabury Leadership in Aging Award in 2014. 

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What should Medicare enrolled seniors and individuals living with disabilities be doing to take advantage of the Medicare Part D open enrollment period?

During the Medicare open enrollment period, it’s important for seniors and people with disabilities to make sure that they’re getting a plan that suits their needs and the most value for their costs.  With one week left in this year’s period, Medicare enrollees should be taking one last look at their plans to make sure that the prescriptions they use are included in their plan’s formulary and to see if their premium could be lower with another plan that meets their needs. 

Individuals should also check and see if they are eligible for any programs that can substantially lower their costs under Medicare.  Medicare has a number of different programs for low-income individuals, including Medicare Savings Programs and Part D Extra Help.  People should also check to see if they are eligible for Medicaid, since it may provide additional services that they don’t receive under Medicare.  It’s important to remember that people can apply for these programs at any time during the year.  Open enrollment is still a good time to check if people qualify since many individuals will be reviewing their plan costs and options anyway. 

People should know that there are a lot of resources available to help them understand their options for these programs.  The various options for Medicare plans and cost-sharing assistance can be complicated, and there are places that can provide help and guidance on individuals’ options.  This includes some of the following websites:

You can also find a help from a local counselor.  It may be hard to get in touch with someone immediately since these resources are often overwhelmed during the end of open enrollment, but they can help with preparing for next year or with applying for extra help.

State Health Insurance Program Counselors: https://shipnpr.shiptalk.org/findcounselor.aspx

Martha Roherty
Executive Director, NASUAD

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Martha Roherty
Executive Director, NASUAD

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Martha Roherty is the Executive Director of the National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities (NASUAD).  She and her staff are responsible for educating Congress, the Administration, other state executive branch organizations, advocacy groups, and the general public on administrative and health and social policy issues of special concern to the state officials administering the programs for long-term care services.  

Ms. Roherty also furnishes technical assistance to state aging, Medicaid, and disability program staff.  Prior to joining NASUAD, Ms. Roherty served as the director of the National Association of State Medicaid Directors.  In that capacity Ms. Roherty helped states as they navigated through many transitions in the Medicaid program including transitioning the dually eligible population to Medicare Part D; the development of Medicaid waivers in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; and the conception of and implementation of the Deficit Reduction Act.  

Ms. Roherty has also held various positions at The Finance Project, the National Association of State Budget Officers, the National Governors Association, and the National Conference of State Legislatures.  Ms. Roherty holds a Master of Public Policy with a concentration in finance from the University of Maryland. 

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What should Medicare enrolled seniors and individuals living with disabilities be doing to take advantage of the Medicare Part D open enrollment period?

Teddy Roosevelt once said, "Do what you can with what you have where you are."  What a perfect answer to this question!   

What we can do is to use this time to make sure we are getting our needs met and saving ourselves as much money as possible.  Open enrollment empowers us by giving us not only options, but also complete information about each of those options. We should use that power to our advantage by choosing the plan that works best for us.  That's the Number 1 thing we can do.

What we have is quite a lot, both in terms of information about the plans available to us and resources to help us evaluate that information.  Here's a quick list of those resources:
www.Medicare.gov
1-800-MEDICARE(1-800-633-4227) Talk to a LIVE person 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
www.seniorsspeakout.org
SHIIP Counselors at local Area Agencies in Aging
Our own experiences and those of our trusted friends 

Where we are is in the closing days of Open Enrollment; it ends November 7. But, as Teddy Roosevelt also said, " Nine-tenths of wisdom is being wise in time!"  

Nona Bear
Community Health Care Activist, Seniors Speak Out

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Nona Bear
Community Health Care Activist, Seniors Speak Out

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Seniors Speak Out was created by the Healthcare Leadership Council’s Medicare Today as a resource for older Americans, caregivers and advocates to help ensure seniors have access to high quality health care.

The Healthcare Leadership Council (HLC), a coalition of chief executives from all disciplines within the health care system, launched Medicare Today in November 2004, to reach out to Medicare beneficiaries who needed reliable information on how to get the greatest value from the Medicare benefits provided by the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA) of 2003.

The Healthcare Leadership Council administers the partnership of more than 400 national and local organizations including National Association of Family Physicians and National Alliance for Hispanic Health. Medicare Today develops innovative tools for all partners to use, commissions research studies and undertakes earned media efforts and outreach to inform beneficiaries about the value of the new benefits under the MMA.

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