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Time for seniors to bone up on Medicare Part B requirements

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POSTED December 19, 2012 5:32 p.m.

The Part B Medicare registration deadline is on the horizon. If there have been any changes in their classifications, Dec. 7 is when the two-month enrollment period will end.

Counseling is available for those who need help being as close as the Manteca Senior Citizens offices on Cherry Lane to the rear of the Manteca City Hall complex.

A counselor from the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP) is on site every Thursday from 9:30 to 12:30 “Helping you make sense of Medicare and health insurance.”

HICAP services of Northern California are provided free of charge for Manteca area seniors.  The trained counselors provide help in understanding Medicare, comparing private Medicare supplemental plans, exploring long-term care insurance options and enrolling in Medicare Part D prescription drug program.

Seniors still have time to research their coverage options and they can decide between Medicare and private managed care.  For those who make no decision on their coverage, Medicare representatives will make the choice for them – the same as it has been in the current year.

Joe Baker of the Medicare Rights Center advocacy group is urging people to do their research early before the upcoming holiday season is upon them.  He warned that even if senior citizens are pleased with their present coverage, insurance plans differ from year to year in their coverage and with their premiums.

A person’s change in medications could also cause out-of-pocket expenses to climb by several thousand dollars, Baker said, adding that other plans might offer a more competitive package.

In the original Medicare makeup Part A is related to hospital care and a number of other services.  This is provided with no premium for seniors to pay for their coverage.

Outpatient hospital care is covered by Part B, along with doctors’ services, lab tests and physical therapy.  The Part B basic premium is just less than $100 a month and the deductible is $140 annually.  The premium can be as high as $320 monthly for seniors earning over $214,000 a year.

For those people  who don’t sign up for Part B when they become eligible for Medicare, they may face penalties for the remainder of their lives and those with high incomes may be charged higher monthly premiums.

Alternatives to the original Medicare include several type of Medicare Advantage plans offered as private managed care through PPOs or HMOs, where patients are served through the plan’s network of providers.

The insured continues to be required to pay a monthly Part B premium to get the Medicare Advantage plans, however some rebate a portion of their premiums.  Medicare Advantage is subsidized by taxpayers, and is often less expensive than the original Medicare.

Those needing vision, hearing or dental coverage will find that coverage in the Advantage plans, but Medicare allows the patient to select any doctor or hospital in the country where the Advantage coverage does not.

At specialty medical center or heart clinic in another state, the charges are reportedly less than those of a private plan.

Those already receiving Social Security are automatically enrolled in Parts A and B when they turn 65.  If not already receiving Social Security they will need to apply for Medicare coverage which can be done online.  The Part B and D enrollment period begins three months before turning 65 and lasts seven months.

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