Open enrollment ‘a free pass’ for Medicare education

By Josette Keelor

Medicare’s open enrollment period begins today, and the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging wants to be a resource for area residents by offering free health care counseling sessions.

The period from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 is basically “a free pass,” encouraging individuals to compare their insurance options, according to agency insurance specialist Marty Schiller.

The opportunity is unique not only because it’s free but also because it’s unbiased, said Roberta Lauder, the agency’s director of resource management.

“The advantage with having a counselor, at least through the Agency on Aging, is that our counselors don’t sell insurance,” Lauder said.

Open enrollment time may invite unscrupulous insurance agents to take advantage of program participants who don’t know their rights, she said.

Twice the agency has heard of agents showing up uninvited at someone’s home, in one instance actually entering the individual’s prescription drugs into the company plan, recommending that plan and then promising to return after Oct. 15 to sign up the Medicare participant.

That kind of behavior is illegal, Lauder said. Agents are not allowed to visit homes uninvited or cold call anyone. They may call only if asked to call.

“I think it’s an ongoing problem,” said Lauder. However, those are the only two instances she knows of that happened locally.

She recommended that area residents on Medicare use the open enrollment time to educate themselves on their options.

Except in special cases, such as moving to an area where existing coverage doesn’t carry over, she said, “Open enrollment period is the only time that you can make changes.”

Advisement during open enrollment is especially necessary for those who have Medicare Part D prescription insurance or Medicare Advantage Plans, which Schiller noted in a news release are difficult to understand.

Premiums for Part D plans will increase in 2015, the release states, and fewer plans will be free of deductibles.

Participants should ensure their current prescriptions will be included in a plan’s formulary and compare projected total costs with those of different plans.

“Individuals should take this annual opportunity for review seriously,” Schiller stated in the news release.

Beginning Oct. 20, insurance counselors will take appointments on Monday and Tuesday mornings in Winchester at the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging’s Active Living Center in the War Memorial Building at Jim Barnett Park. The agency also hosts a monthly Medicare Café in Clarke County, at 425 S. Buckmarsh St., Berryville. The café normally features a theme and a guest speaker, but October through December will focus entirely on free one-on-one counseling.

For more information, call 540-635-7141, ext. 303, or visit http://www.shenandoahaaa.com. To report a fraudulent agent by name and/or company, call the Insurance Bureau at 1-800-552-7945.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com