Medicare window offers chance to cut drug costs

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Until Dec. 7, millions of seniors and individuals with disabilities in Washington state have the opportunity to do something that can make a huge difference in their quality of life: save money on prescription medicines. In some cases, thousands of dollars.

That date is the start of the annual open enrollment period for the Medicare prescription drug benefit, also known as Part D. It is your opportunity to ensure your current health-care plan still fits your needs.

In some cases your medicines may have changed. In other cases, the plans change and what was a good coverage last year may not be this year.

Every year, seniors and those with disabilities who decide to update their plan find they can save significantly by switching to a better, more appropriate plan.

That’s why we have come together to call attention to open enrollment. As advocates for those with diabetes, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and other chronic conditions, we want to help our constituency with the challenges of receiving access to the affordable health care they need.

For those with these illnesses, new treatments and opportunities are available to live longer, healthier lives. And new breakthroughs offer hope for future cures and better treatment.

Those new innovations, however, must be available to those who need them. The Medicare prescription drug benefit has helped millions access those medicines, and recent changes have ensured that costs stay low.

This is one reason that surveys of those on Part D find that more than 90 percent of seniors and people with disabilities are happy with their plan and the program. If, however, you are not happy, open enrollment is an opportunity to find a plan that fits you better. Even if you are happy, doing a checkup can help you find savings you didn’t realize existed.

For example, there is more than one plan with premiums below $20 a month. Overall, the average premium this year among all the plans is about the same as last year. Considering the increase in health care costs we’ve seen recently, stability in the cost of these plans is remarkable.

And with more than 60 plans to choose from in Washington state, there is likely one that will fit your mix of income, prescription medicines and health care plan.

Ironically, all of those choices can be daunting for some — how to decide what plan is best for you. This year, we are joining together to help seniors find assistance in making the best decision. In many cases, finding the best plan and signing up takes only 30 minutes, but can save you significantly next year.

The best source of assistance is the Senior Health Insurance Benefits Assistance program. SHIBA’s trained volunteers will help you simplify the process and they are available at community centers across the state. You can find your local volunteer by calling 800-562-6900.

You can also visit Medicare.gov which has a simple tool to help find the best program for you. All you need is your Medicare card and a list of your medicines.

Whatever you choose, updating your plan is a great way to make sure that 2013 is healthy, whether you are managing a chronic illness or simply want to have health care coverage that ensures you are prepared.

It isn’t every day you get a chance to save money on health care. But that day is coming soon. Make sure you don’t miss out.

Johanna Lindsay of the Arthritis Foundation, Laura Keller of the American Diabetes Association and Jim Freeburg of Multiple Sclerosis Society wrote this column for Washington Healthwire, which distributes guest columns covering news and views of diverse health issues affecting people in communities across the state. For more information, contact Washington Healthwire at 206-963-3409 or info@washingtonhealthwire.com.

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