4 Things You Should Know About Medicare
It's that time of year again: Medicare open enrollment time. If you're newly eligible for Medicare, or if you want to make changes to coverage for yourself or a family member, now is the time to act. A few changes this year may make the process easier than ever.Here are four changes to watch for:
1. Earlier, longer enrollment period. This year, Medicare open enrollment starts Oct. 15 (earlier than usual) and lasts seven weeks (longer than usual). Medicare administrators say the new open enrollment period will better ensure that individuals have their membership cards in hand so they can receive uninterrupted health-care coverage on Jan. 1, 2012. Enrolling in Medicare isn't usually a simple process, so don't wait until the last minute.
2. Lower premiums. Medicare Advantage premiums will be 4 percent lower in 2012 than in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Among Medicare participants, 99.7 percent have access to a Medicare Advantage plan, and benefits will remain the same as in 2011. (Medicare Advantage plans, available from private insurance companies, combine parts A -- coverage for hospital stays -- and B -- coverage for basic medical needs, such as doctor visits.)
Administrators say new provisions of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's health-care reform law, protected beneficiaries from significant increases in costs or cuts in benefits for 2012 and also led to declines in average premiums for the second year in a row. Next year's premiums are projected to be 11.5 percent lower than 2010 premiums.
3. Incentives for high-quality Advantage plans. For the first time, Medicare will offer financial rewards to Medicare Advantage plans that receive high scores through the program's five-star rating system. The incentives are intended to boost the service and performance of all Advantage plans. "Plans that do a better job serving the needs of their Medicare members should be rewarded, and all plans should be encouraged to improve their performance," says Jonathan Blum, deputy administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Providers of Advantage and Part D plans that earn five-star ratings also are allowed, for the first time, to continuously market and enroll beneficiaries throughout the year.
4. Ability to compare plans online. The Medicare Plan Finder became available Oct. 1 at Medicare.gov. Users can compare plans' quality summary ratings from the previous year, identify which drugs are available on a plan and compare the costs for plans available in their communities.
To learn more about Medicare's open enrollment period, compare the cost or benefits of 2012 Medicare health plans in your area, or find other Medicare tools and information, visit Medicare's open enrollment center.
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