Mark Harvey: On Part D open enrollment and Medicare’s Plan Finder

  • Sat Oct 12th, 2019 1:30am
  • Life

By Mark Harvey

Today is Oct. 12. In addition to an ever-helpful reality check, that simple fact also tells us that Tuesday is Oct. 15 — and a lot of us care deeply about that!

Why? Well, you may have your own reasons, but my reason is that Oct. 15 marks the beginning of what most of us refer to as “open enrollment” for Medicare Part D. True, it has a fancier “official” name, but “open enrollment” will serve just fine for our purposes today.

Oct. 15 through Dec. 7 of every year is the time when most of us can change our Part D plan or our Medicare Advantage Plan, with changes taking effect Jan. 1 of the new year. And it appears that we will finally get a few Advantage Plans in our little corner of the galaxy for 2020! But, in the name of clarity and simplicity, we’ll confine ourselves here to Part D (prescription drug) plans.

The obvious question is always: “If I’m just silly-happy with my Part D plan, why would I want to change?” Well, you may not, but consider this: Part D plan premiums and formularies (the drugs that are actually covered by the plan) change often. Most of us would like to know that before we sign on for another year, then discover either or both of those unpleasant facts around … say … March. Ouch!

You do not have to change if your current plan looks like a keeper for 2020, but you can if you want to. So, you can go shopping on Medicare’s Plan Finder (conspicuously displayed on www.medicare.gov)and start entering your info.

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail, because many of us are familiar with this drill, so I’ll just call out a few cogent facts. If you need or want help, call any of the numbers at the end of this column and decent people will help you, at no charge, and they will not try to sell you anything, because they have nothing to sell.

For those of us who have a “low-income subsidy” (or LIS, also known as “Extra Help”) for our Part D plans, remember that we can now only change from one Part D plan to another once per calendar quarter, for the first three quarters of the year. It used to be that we could change plans monthly (and there can be some very good reasons to do that), but those days are gone. Now, we can make one change per calendar quarter, that will take effect on the first day of the month following the request.

Here’s another new thing: We can now “personalize” our info on the Plan Finder by creating a personal account. Why would we? Well, it’ll save your list of prescription drugs, along with other user-specific info. This is supposed to make your life easier now, and in the future. Is that true? I don’t know, but we’ll all know by this time next year.

Do you have to create an account to use the Plan Finder? No, you do not; but if you do not create an account, it won’t save your drug list — so if you change your mind about something two weeks later, you’ll be starting over.

How do you create said account? Well, you go to medicare.gov/plan-compare and click on “Log in or create account,” and it will walk you through the rest. Have your new Medicare card handy, and remember that if something goes south, you can call any of the numbers below for help.

OK, but many of us need to sit next to a human as we work through the Plan Finder — so, is that also possible? At no charge?

Yes, to both. Again, call any of those numbers to make an appointment, and help will happen,

But what if it’s difficult or impossible to get to Aberdeen, Raymond or Long Beach? Here’s what you do: Go to www.o3a.org/news/events-calendar and see when some of the smartest people I know will be in Ocean Shores or Westport or Oakville or Elma or someplace close to you.

Remember to bring your new Medicare card, the list of prescription drugs you’re taking and your patience — these “clinics” can get busy, so you might have to wait a bit. What can I say? Sometimes, helping people takes time.

And remember that the folks who will help you did not invent Medicare or Part D or the Plan Finder! They just reinvented genuine human decency.

Mark Harvey is the director of information and assistance for the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached by email at harvemb@dshs.wa.gov; by phone at 360-532-0520 in Aberdeen, 360-942-2177 in Raymond, or 360-642-3634; or through Facebook at Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information & Assistance.