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2012 Medicare deadline moves up


Apparently, we never grow out of our tendency to procrastinate.

The federal government has moved up the deadline for senior citizens to choose a 2012 Medicare plan, hoping to avoid the rush and confusion of last-minute enrollees.

Usually, people over age 65 have until Dec. 31 to enroll or change their Medicare plan. But this year, open enrollment starts Saturday and ends Dec. 7 -- three weeks earlier than normal.

"What they found in the past is that people would shop around and wait to the last moment to make decisions and there would be an influx of enrollments that would take place the last week of December," said Jeffrey Collins, spokesman for Fidelis Care, a Queens-based nonprofit that offers Medicare plans for low-income people. "It would create a little bit of chaos in the marketplace."

Seniors have many choices when it comes to Medicare. There is "original" Medicare that covers hospitalizations (Part A) and medical care (Part B). Part A has no cost, but Part B costs about $115 a month and may have other out-of-pocket costs. People on original Medicare can buy a gap plan, called supplemental insurance, to fill in coverage holes of original Medicare.

Or senior citizens can choose a (Part C) Medicare Advantage plan, a managed plan offered by private companies that covers Part A and Part B.

Whether in a Medicare Advantage plan or original Medicare, enrollees also may enroll in a (Part D) Prescription Drug Plan.

"It's overwhelming," Collins said.

In Rensselaer County, for example, there are 65 different Medicare plans available.

The federal government has an online tool for comparing plans ( and the state offers one-on-one counseling to help people find plans that fit their needs through the Health Insurance Information Counseling and Assistance Program at 1-800-701-0501.

When comparing plans, Collins suggests people ask about the "four P's:"

Price: What are the premiums, copays, deductibles and coinsurance?

Providers: Which doctors and hospitals can you go to? Can you see people out of state or out of the network?

Product: Are eye exams, dental and drugs covered? Are your drugs covered?

Peace of mind: Does the plan get good ratings in quality and performance?

The federal government rates the plans based on the health outcomes of plan participants and customer satisfaction surveys.

Some insurers drop out of the Medicare program or change the benefits and costs of their plans year to year, so it is important to check your current plan.

"Even is someone is happy with the coverage they have for 2011, they can't just assume that it is the best plan for them for 2012," Collins said.

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Last Updated ( Friday, 28 October 2011 07:32 )  

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