Now's the time to change your Medicare supplement for 2012

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If you're on Medicare, now's the time to make sure the Medicare plan you have will be the best plan for you next year. Open enrollment is from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.

Whether you have Original Medicare, Medicare Advantage or a Part D prescription drug plan, you have one opportunity each year to make any changes you want to your supplemental coverage. This opportunity is Medicare's open enrollment period, also called the Medicare Annual Election Period. 

Open enrollment starts and ends earlier this year than in years' past. So Medicare beneficiaries need to be alert to these changes in the enrollment period. However, any changes you make during open enrollment will not take effect until Jan. 1, 2012.

Medicare plan benefits and your needs can change on an annual basis, so use the open enrollment period to compare your options and get the right fit.

You'll want to ask yourself whether your needs have changed over the last year. Have you changed the medications you take? Been diagnosed with a new medical condition? Moved to a new location? Did you fall into the doughnut hole coverage gap on prescription drugs? Any of these changes could mean your current Medicare plan no longer meets your needs.

If you were one of the 3.4 million people who fell into the doughnut hole prescription drugs coverage gap in 2010, AARP has a free doughnut hole prescription drug calculator that will help you; at the very least extending your paid drug coverage until later in the year. Visit our website if this was a problem for you in 2011.

Medicare plans can also change; and your Medicare supplement provider should let you know if the benefits have changed in any way. For example, the cost of your plan can go up or down, prescription drugs can be added or dropped from the list of drugs (the formulary) included in your plan.

Some Medicare plans change the benefits they offer or stop offering coverage in a particular location. These are issues you need to be aware of and be prepared to switch policies if changes are not to your liking. Because of such changes, you should check your current Medicare plan and, if necessary, switch to another one that fits you better.

In Nevada, you don't have to make these decisions on your own. Nevada's State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) has volunteers who can help you better understand the benefits of the policies you are considering. With offices in northern and southern Nevada, the service offers year-round assistance. During Medicare open enrollment, calling early to get an appointment is recommended at 800-307-4444.

Regardless of your supplemental coverage, you'll want to know about important new benefits offered through Medicare as a result of the new health care law, the Affordable Care Act. Currently, only 2.6 percent of Nevadans are taking advantage of these benefits. All Medicare beneficiaries are eligible for a once annual wellness exam and free health screenings for cancer and diabetes, among other diseases. These services include mammograms, bone density measurements, colonoscopies, glaucoma tests, prostate exams (including PSA tests) and nutrition therapy.

Questions? You can call Medicare directly at 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227), or you can go online to compare the plans available in your area by visiting


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