Seniors and the disabled shopping for a Medicare drug program have only six weeks to enroll for prescription drug coverage in 2007, compared to the six-month enrollment period last year.
The 2007 Medicare open enrollment period began Nov. 15 and ends Dec. 31. Those satisfied with their current plans will be re-enrolled unless they want to make a change.
Along with the shortened deadline for Medicare Part D come a number of changes - additional drug plans, plan premium increases, and changes to prescription medication coverage within some plans.
Mike Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, recommends people decide by Dec. 8 whether they will change plans in order to ensure coverage by Jan. 1.
Turning for help
The primary source for help understanding Medicare drug plan coverage is family, but some people don't have family to go to for assistance, said Margaret Reilly, program manager of Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program of Northern California (HICAP).
Reilly was at the Truckee Senior Center on Monday to answer questions about Medicare Part D and assist seniors in finding the right plan. She was joined by Janet Cottrell, volunteer coordinator for the state of Nevada Health Insurance Assistance Program.
Reilly said many of the seniors she has met thus far have just wanted confirmation that their current plans will provide sufficient coverage in 2007.
Even if people are content with their current plan they should still shop around because of changing coverage and Medicare options, said Conor Lee, spokesman for Senior Educators, a national group that helps seniors and their families through the Medicare enrollment process.
"In order to save money you need to be a smart shopper," Lee said.
Cottrell said she agreed seniors should compare plans because some plans might be better-suited to fit individual needs.
Check with a professional
To make the process easier, it's important to be prepared. For those with several drug prescriptions, Cottrell said to list all prescribed drugs with their strengths and dosages, and then discuss generic drug information with the physician.
Factoring in a person's health status, such as diabetes or a heart condition, is important in budgeting health insurance that fits individual needs, Lee said.
People can call HICAP for assistance, which is a convenient service for seniors who are homebound, or "go online if you're a computer-savvy senior" for more information, Reilly said.
Medicare enrollment is a complicated process, Lee said, and it's OK to be confused. He said seniors should be wary of fraud. Don't read an insurance mailer and accept the information to be completely accurate, Lee said.
"If someone is being aggressive and they say you must decide today, just walk away," Reilly said.
Reilly said seniors should not give out any personal information, like a Social Security number, over the telephone.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report .