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Senior Living: How to get help with Medicare
The options and choices available to Medicare beneficiaries today can be dizzying! In addition to Original Medicare (Part A and B) that’s been around for 46 years, beneficiaries now have the option of enrolling in a prescription drug plan (Part D), and a supplemental (Medigap) policy -- both of which are sold by private insurance companies. Or, a Medicare Advantage plan which covers health care, prescription drugs and extra services all in one. These plans, which are also sold by private insurers, are generally available through HMOs and PPOs.
To help you figure out which Medicare plan(s) best meet your needs, there are a wide variety of services available depending on how much help you need. Some services are completely free; some charge a fee; and some are free to consumers but get commissions from insurance companies.
Here’s where you can find help.
A good starting point to become familiar with Medicare is the “Medicare & You 2011” booklet that overviews the program and your options. You should have received a free copy in the mail last October. If you didn’t receive it, you can pick one up at your local Social Security office or read it online at medicare.gov.
Medicare also offers a variety of free tools on their website that can help you shop and compare health plans, supplemental policies and prescription drug plans in your area (see medicare.gov/find-a-plan). Or, if you don’t have Internet access, or don’t feel confident in working through the information on your own you can also call Medicare at 800-633-4227 to get help over the phone.
Some other great resources that can help are the Medicare Rights Center (medicarerights.org), a national, nonprofit consumer service organization that staffs a hotline at 800-333-4114 to help answer your Medicare questions. And, your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), which provides free one-on-one Medicare counseling in person or over the phone. To find a local SHIP counselor visit shiptalk.org, or call 800-677-1116.
If the free services don’t cut the mustard and you need
some additional help in making your Medicare decisions,
there are a handful of fee-based companies that are very
helpful. One of the best is Allsup Inc. (medicare.allsup.com; 888-271-1173), which offers a national Medicare Advisor program. Depending on your needs, Allsup will assign you an adviser who collects your personal information over the phone, like the prescription drugs you take and the doctors you use, and will provide you customized advice on the best Medicare health plans that match your needs. They will even help you enroll in the plan(s) you select. Fees for their services range from $75 to $350. Other service companies worth a look are Healthcare Navigation (healthcarenavigation.com; 877-811-8211), and American Medical Claims (amcstl.com; 888-569-2131).
Another way to get help with your Medicare enrollment is to consult an independent insurance agent. Agents typically get paid a commission to sell you a policy, although they offer plans from a number of providers. The Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America have a directory on their website (iiaba.net) that lets you search for agents in your area. But keep in mind that agents typically specialize in the Medicare plans they represent, rather than all the plans in your market.
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