Medicare Annual Enrollment Is Oct. 15 Through Dec. 7

State SHIBA program offers free, unbiased help 

Annual open enrollment for Medicare starts next week, and the Senior Health Insurance Benefits Assistance (SHIBA) section of the Oregon Insurance Division is available to help. 

SHIBA is a statewide Medicare information and assistance program that is federally funded through an annual grant from the Administration for Community Living. SHIBA staff and more than 250 certified counselors serve many of Oregon's more than 700,000 Medicare beneficiaries to help them understand their Medicare benefits and enrollment options. Call 1-800-722-4134(toll-free) for free, unbiased one-on-one assistance. 

Annual enrollment runs Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. Any Medicare Advantage (MA) or prescription drug plan (Part D) changes must be made between these dates so that coverage begins without interruption on Jan. 1, 2015

"It is important to compare Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug plans every year," SHIBA spokeswoman Lisa Emerson said. "Plans change year to year, as do your individual health care needs. You could potentially save money by shopping for a new plan." 

SHIBA counselors help beneficiaries compare plans and enroll by using the plan finder tool found online atwww.medicare.gov/find-a-plan. Beneficiaries and their families can also choose to use this tool to compare plans and enroll on their own. 

Here are tips from SHIBA for comparing plans: 

- Find your insurance cards: You may need your red, white, and blue Medicare card to review benefit details or enroll in a new plan. If you have a Medicare Advantage or prescription drug plan, you may also need that card. 

- Update your list of prescription drugs: Check with your doctor to make sure you understand each prescription. Is a generic available? Can you eliminate any unneeded medications? Based on your list, do you have the right plan for you? 

- Use the Medicare.gov plan finder: The plan finder uses your prescription list to compare prescription drug and Medicare Advantage health plans in your area. Not all companies cover the same drugs so it's important to have a complete list of your medications and dosages when using this tool. 

- Contact your doctor, hospital, and pharmacy before making changes: Not all health and drug plans contract or work with the same providers. If you switch plans, make sure you understand which providers you can see for the best price. 

- Apply for help with drug costs: If you have limited income and assets, you may qualify for extra help with prescription drug costs. SHIBA counselors can help you apply for this benefit through Social Security. 

SHIBA also publishes an annual Medicare guide, which will be available soon. 

More information: 

SHIBA: To meet with a counselor, contact the toll-free SHIBA Helpline at 1-800-722-4134. You will be asked to enter your ZIP code to be connected to a program in your area. Visit www.oregonshiba.org to find a copy of the 2015 Oregon Guide to Medicare Health plans or to find a free Medicare 101 class in your area. 

Medicare: As an alternative you may call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help you understand your coverage options and enroll in a plan. 

The Senior Health Insurance Benefits Assistance is part of the Insurance Division of the Department of Consumer and Business Services, Oregon's largest business regulatory and consumer protection agency. Visit www.dcbs.oregon.gov. Follow DCBS on Twitter: http://twitter.com/OregonDCBS. Receive consumer help and information on insurance, mortgages, investments, workplace safety, and more.

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