By the Bay

Medicare questions? Ask HICAP

judysalamacha@gmail.comNovember 11, 2012 

Is your mailbox stuffed with advertising fliers asking you to switch your Medicare Part D prescription plan? The insurance companies want your business and whether you are new to the system or a veteran of Medicare, deciphering which plan meets your needs can be intimidating.

Besides Medicare counselors, there is the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program, an independent agency with trained volunteers who offer free advice to get you through the maze of information.

HICAP’s registered counselor for Cambria and the Estero Bay, Buff Lawson, is adamant that you need to review your plan annually.

“Californians can review their insurance plans between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7 and make a change if they are not satisfied with their current plan,” Lawson said, “but it can be so overwhelming, people tend to ignore the mailers and stick with what they have. Don’t ignore it. If there is one message to stress, it is that every year you need to review your Part D prescription plan.”

When Lawson moved to Los Osos from Cincinnati 12 years ago, she noticed her mother-in-law was struggling with all the paperwork related to Medicare, so she studied up to help her. She discovered HICAP trained volunteers to provide free and objective information about Medicare to help more seniors. Lawson has been an advocate since 2007.

“Every year changes happen,” Lawson said. “Your company might determine it is not profitable to participate in Medicare and opt out of the program. Many companies will make changes in their 2013 plans that could be positive or negative depending on your needs. You don’t have to change, but at the least you will confirm you are in the best plan for your needs, or you might discover there is a more economical plan for you.”

She also works with teachers and retirees. “Many teachers don’t realize they may have the hours to qualify for Medicare.” She cautions seniors to look carefully first before making a change because the change becomes permanent.

HICAP has developed a new form, “Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan Finder Tool,” to help seniors check out options.

HICAP mailed 1,008 forms this month to beneficiaries offering to run plan comparisons. The forms ask basic questions, including which prescription drugs are being taken. HICAP needs the form back by Nov. 26 for the counselors to review it and provide a list of plans to choose from.

Lawson meets with seniors the second and fourth Thursdays by appointment at the Morro Bay Community Center. She also enjoys doing community presentations upon request. Contact her at 928-5663 or HICAP at 1-800-434-0222 or www.centralcoastseniors.org/hicap.

Judy Salamacha’s column is special to The Tribune. Reach her at judysalamacha@gmail.com or 801-1422.

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