Open enrollment for Medicare is early this year

Seniors can begin revising their health care coverage Saturday, and have 7 weeks

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter



If you go

What: Medicare forum.

When: 10 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Where: Luepke Center, 1009 E. McLoughlin Blvd., Vancouver.

Cost: Free. Clark County Loaves and Fishes will offer lunch after the forum for a suggested donation of $3 for people 60 years old or older, and $6.80 for those younger than 60.

Details: Representatives from Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security Administration, SHIBA, Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation, Human Services Council and Southwest Washington Agency on Aging and Disabilities will be on hand to answer questions. Call 487-7055 to reserve a spot.

Medicare recipients, take heed: The annual open enrollment period begins Saturday — a full month earlier than normal.

The federal government has moved up the dates this year, and open Medicare enrollment will begin Oct. 15 and end Dec. 7, giving seniors seven weeks to make changes to their coverage.

Chris Keuscher, SHIBA program coordinator for the Human Services Council, said he’s distributing fliers and hanging up posters to try and spread the word about the earlier dates.

“With a big change like this, there’s going to be a lot of people who don’t know,” Keuscher said.

The change will ensure recipients have plan materials and membership cards in hand by Jan. 1, when the new coverage begins.

Open enrollment gives people with Medicare an opportunity to review their coverage, explore other plans and make changes to their coverage. Changes that aren’t made by Dec. 7 have to wait for another year.

Every person with Medicare will have to choose a Part D plan to help pay for prescription drugs. And people who have enrolled in a Part C Medicare Advantage Plan have the option of staying in that plan, choosing a different plan or going back to the Original Medicare program, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

New 2012 plan information is available on the Medicare website,

In addition to the open enrollment period change, Medicare patients can expect a few other new things in 2012.

Everyone is entitled to an annual wellness visit with a doctor. Prevention services including mammograms and other cancer screenings are now available with no cost-sharing. And people who reach the “doughnut hole” where support in paying for drugs is cut back will get a 50 percent discount on covered brand-name drugs and a 14 percent discount on generic drugs, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

To further spread the word about Medicare changes, SHIBA and the Human Services Council are hosting a free Medicare forum Tuesday. The educational event will answer attendees’ questions about Medicare, Part D, Social Security, Medicare changes for 2012, wellness programs and other resources.

SHIBA, a program of the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner, helps citizens with health care insurance questions and operates a hotline staffed by volunteers. The SHIBA HelpLine number is 800-562-6900.

Marissa Harshman:;;; 360-735-4546.