This week marked the beginning of open enrollment for Medicare, the vital health insurance program available to seniors starting on their 65th birthday and certain people with disabilities. For decades Medicare has provided reliable health care and prescription drug coverage for millions of people – and importantly it has helped provide some financial relief to so many who are living on limited incomes while wrestling with mortgages and monthly bills.
If you have Medicare, you may be wondering how the health reform law and the new Health Insurance Marketplaces will affect your Medicare or Medicare Advantage plan. The good news for seniors and people with disabilities is that existing Medicare coverage, and coverage for those newly eligible for Medicare, is completely protected and actually strengthened through the health reform law. That means you get to keep your coverage if you like it, and you will continue getting your coverage the same way. You will not need to go through West Virginia’s new Health Insurance Marketplace to get your Medicare coverage.
Because of the health reform law, many seniors and people with disabilities now have stronger Medicare plans that are providing access to discounted name-brand drugs and rebate checks that help alleviate the costs of their prescriptions. This is a huge boost for cash-strapped seniors, leaving more money in their pockets to use toward other monthly expenses. In fact, this improvement in Medicare because of the health care law has already saved West Virginia’s Medicare recipients $85 million dollars on their prescriptions.
The health reform law is also providing access to important preventive services aimed at keeping seniors and people with disabilities well so they’re able to live fuller lives and save money for the future rather than on sick care. The wellness services available to Medicare beneficiaries include cancer screenings, mammograms, and general wellness exams, without any co-pay or other kind of charge. More than 160,000 of West Virginia’s seniors have already used these services that do not require any out of pocket cost.
During this open enrollment period, I strongly encourage all those who have Medicare plans to reassess your needs and your budget. For example, you may be able to find a plan with similar coverage at a lower monthly premium than you’re currently paying. As a reminder, the open enrollment period started on October 15 and ends on December 7.
Keep in mind that if you are enrolled in Medicare, or looking to enroll in Medicare because you recently became eligible, you should call 1-800-MEDICARE or visit www.medicare.gov to check on available plans and learn how to enroll. West Virginians can also seek professional, confidential guidance through the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (known as SHIP), which helps you compare plans and determine monthly costs, by calling 1-877-987-4463 or visiting www.wvship.org. If you’re still happy with your Medicare or Medicare Advantages plan, you’re set for 2014. You don’t have to take any further action to receive the comprehensive care you signed up for in a previous year.
Medicare is a lifeline for so many West Virginians and I remain fiercely dedicated to protecting this program. Some of my colleagues in the Senate, and several in the House of Representatives, are out to reduce our deficit through cuts to Medicare and other important federal entitlement programs. I refuse to allow this to happen. Gutting Medicare is an unfair and senseless way to fix our budget problems.
I will continue looking for ways to make meaningful improvements to Medicare. I want to build on the success we had in the health reform law so we can further cut costs for seniors and keep the program’s benefits intact for future generations. For now, I hope you’ll take the time during open enrollment to evaluate your Medicare plan or enroll in a plan if you are newly eligible. Health insurance can go a long way to improving both your physical and financial health.