Medicare enrollment begins

Published 11:02 pm Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Medicare open enrollment period has changed this year.

Current Medicare recipients can begin making annual changes to their plans on Saturday, and the enrollment period will end Dec. 7. The enrollment period is beginning and ending earlier this year than in past years.

“We always strongly urge people on Medicare to consider their options every year during the open enrollment period,” said Ginger McDaniel, communications director for AARP Virginia. “Some people may be caught unaware of the fact that it starts earlier and ends earlier this year.”

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Any changes made take effect on Jan. 1.

“If you don’t make your choice by the deadline, you have to wait a whole year,” McDaniel said.

With an aging population, more and more people are becoming eligible for Medicare and other programs with each passing year. This year, the first Baby Boomers turned 65. More than one million Virginians are now on Medicare.

McDaniel recommended that Medicare recipients look at all their options, investigating the monthly premium, deductibles, cost sharing and other variables of all the Medicare health and prescription plans.

They also should ensure their doctors and pharmacies are on the plans they’re considering, and whether the plans cover prescriptions and other services they need.

McDaniel also encouraged people who are already on a plan to scrutinize the annual notice of change that they should receive.

“It’s important to look at that carefully and see how that affects you,” McDaniel said.

Even people who feel their current plan works fine may find that another that works better, she said.

For people who are having trouble figuring out which plan will work best, a number of resources are available for help.

“It may be daunting for people,” McDaniel said.

Web-savvy seniors (or their kids or grandkids) can go online to or to compare plans.

Participants also can call 1-800-MEDICARE to get help over the phone.

Finally, Medicare recipients can get in-person help through Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia by calling 461-9481.