Senior life: Important Medicare Part D enrollment dates to remember

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By Monica Rheuling

The calendar says it’s Monday, Dec. 5, 2011. For most of us that means the beginning of another month, a whirlwind month filled with holiday planning, shopping and festivities.
Others, especially those who are eligible for and receiving Medicare benefits, should be reminded the deadline for the Medicare Part D program (prescription drug program) is fast approaching. The enrollment period for 2011 ends Wednesday with the new benefit year to begin in January. This is a drastic change in the Part D program; in years past, enrollment has ended Dec. 31 of each year.
The election of which insurance company provides the best medication prescription coverage for a person’s particular situation is an individual choice.  It is important to be informed about available plans so that the decision to stay with or change a current plan can be made. If eligible and choosing a plan for the first time, it is important to know how to sign up and choose the best coverage for prescription needs.
EXISTING MEDICARE PART D COVERAGE. those already enrolled in a prescription drug plan who are satisfied with its drug coverage, no action needs to be taken at this time. Coverage will continue under the existing insurance plan, but be forewarned that drug premiums or deductibles may have changed since last year’s enrollment. There also may have been changes to the list of prescription drugs covered by the plan.
Existing plans can be compared to the new plans on www.medicare.gov or by calling 1-800-MEDICARE. Any changes in premiums, deductibles or coverage are covered on the website or by contacting insurance representatives.
Some participants in the Medicare Part D program may choose to change plans. Some may find plans will have an increase in premiums or particular drugs may not be covered in the formularies. If a plan comparison has been made, the switch to the new insurance company must be made by Dec. 7. Contact 1-800-MEDICARE or visit www.medicare.gov for more information.
NEW MEDICARE PART D ENROLLMENT. When turning 65 or new to Medicare, there is an initial enrollment period (IEP), a seven-month window around a person’s Medicare eligibility month (three months before, the month of, and three months after the Medicare eligibility month, usually the birthday month. It is important to contact the Social Security Administration with any questions regarding eligibility at www.socialsecurity.gov or 1-800-772-1213.
Some questions have to be answered about your personal medication assistance needs as decisions are made about a drug plan.

  • Which plans cover the prescription drugs currently taken?
  • Which prescription drugs are foreseen to be taken because of family history? For example, high blood pressure, heart conditions and diabetes treatments. Which monthly fees are affordable? Each insurance plan has different in monthly premiums and co-payments.
  • Does your pharmacy accept the Medicare-approved insurance plans? If so, which plans?

Second, complete an application with the Social Security Administration (SSA) on at www.socialsecurity.gov for possible assistance with Part D premiums. It’s a quick application that evaluates eligibility for extra help with the premiums, annual deductibles and prescription co-pays. Once SSA reviews your application, a follow-up letter about eligibility will be mailed in a few weeks. Many seniors and other eligible people automatically think they do not qualify for the extra help; it is best to investigate this assistance for a definite answer. For more information about the extra help assistance from SSA, call 1-800-772-1213.
Make informed choices, avoid future penalties, and enroll by Wednesday.
Contact Senior Life columnist Monica Ruehling at mruehling@