Letter to the Editor: Confused on Medicare options? Get guidance by calling these phone numbers

Every year, from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period takes place.

Over 2 million Pennsylvania use Medicare programs. These programs include standard Medicare (which is provided directly by the federal government), Medicare Advantage (which is offered by private health insurance companies), and the prescription drug benefit (Medicare Part D). Because of the widespread use of this program, this once-a-year window is an important time for many Pennsylvanians.

While not every subscriber needs to switch health or prescription plans, every Medicare beneficiary should take time to review his or her current health and drug plan to ensure that the plan best fits his or her needs. Things to consider when reviewing plans include coverage and costs. For example, are the services or drugs you need covered? Do you have or are you eligible for other health and drug coverage? What are the premiums, coinsurance, co-payment or deductibles? What is the out-of-pocket limit for medical care? Are your doctors and hospitals part of the plan? Are your prescriptions covered? What are the plans’ quality ratings?

In 2016, there are 168 Medicare Advantage plans and 29 Medicare Prescription Drug Plans available in Pennsylvania. While reviewing available plans and comparing costs is strongly encouraged, with so many choices and with so many questions to ask, the task can seem daunting. My department wants Pennsylvanians to know that our assistance is available to them.

Calling 1-800-MEDICARE connects you with a customer service representative 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and support is offered in 200 languages. TTY users should call 1-877-486-2018.

Additionally, free health insurance counseling is available to Medicare beneficiaries and their families through the State Health Insurance Assistance Programs, or “SHIP.”

SHIP is a year-round program that is not affiliated with any insurance company, and counselors do not sell or solicit any type of insurance. Instead, SHIP counselors educate and answer questions about Medicare Parts A, B, D; Medicare Advantage plans; Medicare Supplement policies; long-term care insurance; and employer/retiree health plans.

In Pennsylvania, SHIP counseling is made available through the Department of Aging’s APPRISE Program. To access this service, contact the APPRISE Program at 1-800-783-7067 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday; or contact your local Area Agency on Aging.

The Wolf administration is working hard to ensure that all Pennsylvanians receive the highest quality health care possible. During this year’s Medicare Open Enrollment Period, I am urging all Medicare beneficiaries to find their best coverage options and to let my department help them in this process in any way that we can.

Teresa Osborne

Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Aging