By Christina Knoell
and Kay Kaylor
Special to The PREVIEW
Medicare is complicated. It is important that you know your rights, options, deadlines, possible penalties and where to find the information you need.
Did you know that assistance is available in Pagosa Springs through the nationwide State Health Insurance Program? Trained and certified Medicare counselors are available by appointment to guide you when dealing with Medicare enrollment, questions and problems.
One of the San Juan Basin Area Agency on Aging (SJBAAA) volunteer Medicare counselors, Katy Deshler, will offer a free Medicare 101 class on Thursday, Sept. 5, at the Ruby Sisson Library to help you get started. The class will start at 10:30 a.m. and will run until about noon. Please call Kay at 264-0501, ext. 1 to reserve your spot because space is limited.
Medicare help has been offered in Archuleta County at the Pagosa Springs Senior Center for more than 15 years. SJBAAA is the sponsoring agency for free Medicare counseling services at the Senior Center (the west end of the Ross Aragon Community Center). On most Mondays, called Medicare Monday, counselors are available by appointment. Counseling occurs on additional days during the annual Part C and D Open Enrollment Period, Oct. 15-Dec. 7, and sometimes by phone or appointment on other days.
Please call the phone number above to make an appointment or to ask questions. Some SJBAAA counselors are also trained as Senior Medicare Patrol counselors and they can help with possible health care fraud, errors and abuse.
Medicare eligibility begins at age 65 unless you are younger and have been on disability for almost two years. Three months before (and until three months after) your birth month, you can enroll in Medicare and start making decisions about your options. Some of the questions you need to consider follow:
• Are you eligible for Medicare Part A and Part B? Do you need both?
• Do you have a retirement plan that will work with Medicare?
• Do you want a Medicare supplement (also called Medigap)?
• Would you prefer coverage through a Medicare Advantage plan or cost plan?
• Do you want a Part D drug plan to avoid a monthly penalty? If so, which plan would work best for you? This varies depending on which drugs you take.
• Do you qualify for help with Part B or D premiums?
Generally, you can enroll in Medicare online at www.ssa.gov or by calling the Social Security Administration in Durango, (888) 472-6115. If you are already receiving a Social Security check, you will be automatically enrolled in Part A and Part B, but you will need to enroll in Part D and Part C or supplements yourself. You can also find valuable information at www.medicare.gov.
If you are already on Medicare and have a Part D drug plan or a Part C supplement, you need to review that plan each year during the Open Enrollment Period because plan premiums and coverage of drugs change each year. Medicare counselors can help you during that time, or you can go to www.medicare.gov to review your plan.
Also, contact Medicare, (800) 633-4227, if you have not received your new Medicare card and number since the mailings to beneficiaries have ended.
You also can sign into MyMedicare.gov to see if your card was mailed and, if so, print out an official card.
If you are receiving Social Security disability, you will probably be eligible for Medicare starting 23 months after your disability begins and will have a limited period to enroll in a Part D drug plan. It is important to know all enrollment deadlines to avoid penalties. Also, depending on your income and assets, you may be eligible for Extra Help with drug plans or Medicare Savings Programs for Part B.