Most of us would agree that we like to have choices, whether it’s at the grocery store or on a ballot.
That’s certainly true of health care. Here in the United States, most patients don’t like the idea of being held to limited options for treatments or providers.
Nevertheless, Medicare almost represents too much of a good thing. Open enrollment season, that time of year when people 65 and older can switch providers of their comprehensive health and drug coverage, is upon us. Medicare choices are appearing at the speed of space detritus hitting the windshield of the Starship Enterprise.
There’s a lot to consider when selecting a plan. Premiums, deductibles, co-pays, prescription drugs and skilled nursing care are among the details powering various alternatives. In some cases, consumers are trying to forecast what their needs will be many months from now.
Adding to the pressure is the conviction that making the wrong choice, or overlooking the fine print on an existing plan, could wind up costing a bundle.
The good news is twofold. First, open enrollment, which began last week, continues through Dec. 7, so there is enough time to do research. Second, help is available to navigate Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage plans.
Once again, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program has scheduled a series of sessions to provide free assistance to seniors looking for the plans that best meet their needs.
Volunteers trained in the federally funded Senior Health Insurance Benefits Assistance Program have been meeting with seniors since Oct. 15 at sites around Douglas County. The sessions take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and operate on a first-come, first-served basis.
A beneficiary who brings a Medicare card, any other insurance card and a list of prescription drugs can sit down with a volunteer who will plug that information into a website. The result will be a list of plans ranked by cost and coverage, tailored to the needs of the Medicare card holder.
If this seems too good to be true, it isn’t. We’ve witnessed these volunteers at work with seniors, many of whom are in failing health and struggling to understand the nuances of various plans. Volunteers are not only patient with those seeking help, but are also capable of decoding insurance-speak and explaining how choices can affect plan participants.
What volunteers will not do is try to sell certain plans to seniors. RSVP and SHIBA are not affiliated with insurance companies. The goal is to provide consumers with enough information for them to make their own decisions. Some seniors may opt to stick with the plans they have.
Uncertainties about health insurance can create anxiety not only for seniors, but also for their family members. Enrollment counseling sessions do require an investment in time, given that they aren’t run by appointment. But beneficiaries and their relatives can end up spending many more hours doing their own research. And they may still come away without confidence they’ve made good choices.
We urge anyone in need of a Medicare Part D or Medicare Advantage Plan to look into this free and valuable service. For schedules and details, visit nrtoday.com/medicarehelp.