Tag Archives: Annual Enrollment Period

Time for Change

Long View: Is It Time for a Change?

“Everyone appreciates the long, light evenings. Everyone laments their shortage as Autumn approaches; and nearly everyone has given utterance to regret that the clear, bright light of an early morning during Spring and Summer months is so seldom seen or used.”

This was written by a London builder named William Willett, who proposed daylight saving time from an idea conceived by Benjamin Franklin.

“Spring forward. Fall back,” was how I learned it! I remember daylight saving time when I was a child was a big deal. The Saturday night before the official time change would take place, my entire family worked together to make sure that all the clocks and watches in our household were set, not to mention the clocks in my parents’ cars. It never failed. There was always that tiny clock on the top of our stove that we would miss. My mom always caught it when she went to set the oven timer!

Then, once the clocks were all set, my sister and I pondered whether we lost or gained an hour of sleep. We always had to sit there for a minute or 2 and do the math before coming up with the answer.

For most of us today, time changes are not nearly as complicated as they used to be. Our world is much more hurried, and automation is everywhere. It’s accepted that almost every clock, watch, appliance, iPhone, and computer is programmed for daylight saving time. We really don’t have to worry about making sure all of our timepieces make the change. With our schedules so full, we don’t even realize we’ve gained an hour or lost an hour of sleep.

Just like the time change happens each November, Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) happens each October. Medicare beneficiaries can review their current plan and make any changes they feel are needed from October 15 through December 7.

Every year, the AEP is a good time to check your drugs and review upcoming services with your doctor, then make sure the plan you’re on is still the best fit. You might even want to get your family together to make sure you didn’t miss anything.

Some resources available to help you this AEP include Medicare.gov, which is easy to navigate and packed with information, and Illinois’ very own Senior Health Insurance Program (SHIP). The Illinois Department of Insurance offers this free, impartial counseling service for people who are Medicare-eligible. Visit Insurance.Illinois.gov or call them at 1-800-548-9034. You can also find the nearest SHIP office in this directory, or, in Iowa.

And don’t forget to check out your current insurance info at HealthAllianceMedicare.org. If you need to research plan options, you can “fall back” on us! We’re ready to help with any questions you may have for the upcoming plan year.

Mervet Adams is a community liaison with Health Alliance. She loves her grandson, family, nature, and fashion.

Answers to Your Health Insurance Questions

Vantage Point: Time to Answer Important Health Insurance Questions

It’s that time of year again. My husband comes home with a huge packet of healthcare information. Yep, it’s open enrollment for his employer health plan. It’s time for us to look at the options and choices that best suit our family in the coming year.

Every year, Medicare beneficiaries get this kind of event too. It’s called the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP). Each year from October 15 to December 7, they have the opportunity to look at the options available in their service area and choose which plan is the best for them and their health.

This is an important time for everyone. As we age, our health may change too. Understanding and knowing what coverage is best for you can be a daunting task, so you should ask yourself some very important questions each and every year.

Am I happy with my current plan? What’s changing for the new year? Is the premium going up on the plan I currently have? Do I need more coverage?

I understand that as Medicare members, you’re sent an enormous amount of marketing material during this time of year. All the Medicare Advantage, Medicare Supplement, and prescription drug plan companies are trying to get your attention and your business.

How do you weed through all the material? And even more important questions come up for you each year. Do I know the difference between Medicare Advantage and Medicare Supplement? Is the prescription drug plan I’m currently on the best value for the prescription drugs I’m taking? Finding the answers can be confusing and frustrating.

The answers you seek can be found quickly and easily. Visit our website or call us directly for answers to your health insurance questions. There are also independent brokers available to you, like GHB Insurance located right in Olympia, to help you with all the plan information you receive. In the Thurston County area, there are also SHIBA (Statewide Health Insurance Benefit Advisors) representatives who volunteer their time to help you understand Medicare and all the parts associated with it. They can be found at both the Lacey and Olympia senior centers.

So never fear, your Medicare questions can be answered here. Or at least, we can assist you in getting the answers you need. Remember, you have resources available to you. All you have to do is use them.

Joy Stanford is a community liaison with Health Alliance, serving Thurston County. She’s been involved with Medicare for 20+ years and truly enjoys it. She enjoys gospel, R&B, and country music, and she owns over 100 pairs of shoes.

Making a Difference on Every Call

Vantage Point: Making a Difference

As our Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) came to an end, I sat back and thought of all of the work our team had done. Each year, prospective members call in to get information to determine if Health Alliance is the right fit for their needs.

Of course we go over the basics, like monthly premiums, copays, and out-of-pocket maximums, but that is all very black and white, and not every situation is the same or so simple.

At Health Alliance, the expectation is to go the extra mile for our members and prospects. Our potential members rely on our expertise to guide them in the right direction.

This past AEP, I had someone call in asking if our plan covers a certain medication that’s given at the doctor’s office. My immediate response to the caller was, “I don’t know, but let me research that for you.”

I wanted to make sure they were making the right choice by switching to our plan. After doing some research and calling our pharmacy department, I called them back and shared the details I’d gathered.

Later, I got the chance to meet the potential member to go over our plans in person. They could not thank me enough for gathering the information and told me my phone call back was a nice surprise. We gained credibility and their trust by taking the extra step to respond to their particular situation.

I was actually surprised because I didn’t feel like I had done that much, but after thinking about it for a while, I realized it really is the little things that count the most to our members. This is a perfect example of why our role as liaisons is so important for our community and what sets Health Alliance apart.

As liaisons, we go out of our way to give our members the most accurate information we can and to take away the pressure of those difficult and complex questions. Our job is to simplify and educate. We’re making a difference every day, no matter how big or small.

Jessica Arroyo, born and raised in Wenatchee Valley, is a Medicare community liaison for Health Alliance, serving Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan counties in Washington. During her time off, she enjoys spending time with her husband and infant son.

HappyHappy, Healthy, Medicare New Year!

Long View & Vantage Point: Steps to a Happy Medicare New Year

Winter preparations are all done, and winter festivals and end-of-the-year holiday celebrations have ended. Just when you think you can sit back and relax, there is still one last item you may need to consider.

If you made any changes to your Medicare plan during the Annual Enrollment Period, here are some actions you can take to help you have a happy Medicare New Year:

  1. Make sure you’ve received your new plan’s member ID card.

If you joined a Medicare prescription drug plan (PDP) that works with Original Medicare, you’ll get a separate card to use when you fill your prescriptions, but you’ll still use your Medicare card for hospital and doctor services.

If you joined a Medicare Advantage plan, like a Health Alliance plan, you’ll get a new card to use when filling your prescriptions and for hospital and doctor visits.

If you need medical care or need to fill a prescription before you receive your ID card and your new coverage has already started, you may be able to use other documents as proof of coverage, like the welcome letter you got from the plan, or even your enrollment confirmation number and the plan’s name and phone number.

  1. Show your new member ID card to your doctor’s office and pharmacist on your first visit of the new year.

If you have stayed with the same insurance company, be sure to replace last year’s card with your new card. If you changed companies, be sure you’re always using your new card.

  1. If you chose to have your plan premium withheld from your Social Security check, don’t be alarmed if you don’t see it deducted right away. It can take up to 3 months from when you made this request to start seeing it withheld from your Social Security payment.
  1. Remember that your deductibles start over at the beginning of the year, so normal copayments won’t start until all applicable deductibles have been met for the year.
  1. Take advantage of your annual wellness visit. This free preventive benefit is designed to help you take charge of your health, learn about preventive services you might need in the future, and establish a baseline for personalized care.
  1. Take advantage of any gym membership benefits from your plan. Many plans offer gym memberships or access to fitness activities, at no cost to you. Our Be Fit benefit helps pay you back for your gym membership or fitness classes, so you can get fit at the gym of your choice.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2017!

Sherry Gordon-Harris is a community liaison at Health Alliance. She is a wife and mother of 2 boys and enjoys traveling, collecting dolls, and hosting princess parties and princess pageants.

Breck Obermeyer is a community liaison with Health Alliance, serving Yakima County. She is a homegrown girl from Naches and has a great husband who can fix anything and 2 kids who are her world. When not attending community events or providing Medicare education throughout the Valley, she can be found indulging in her hobbies of homesteading, pioneer cooking, and learning new survival techniques. She also has a strong love for all things Halloween.

AEP Medicare Shopping

Vantage Point: Let’s Shop

I’d seen all the cell phone carrier TV ads and billboards. I’d received offers to change in the mail and had friends and family share better coverage experiences, but I was stubborn. I convinced myself I was just being loyal, but the truth was, after 20 years with the same carrier, I was resisting change.

Entering the ultra-busy cell carrier’s store, I was approached right away by a super professional greeter. “How may I help you?” he asked, keeping eye contact while also using a hand-held tablet to address my needs.

As I waited for a sales agent, the greeter invited me to look around and told me I would be helped shortly. Not even 2 minutes later, while browsing phone choices and tapping along to the upbeat music, Marco introduced himself with an outstretched hand. I told him I had moved to a remote canyon, where my old cell carrier didn’t have good enough service. He offered me a solution and set my new plan up, right on the spot.

My new carrier’s bills are easy to read, and the website to manage my account is so user-friendly that I can now better understand my usage. Because of that, I’ve changed my plan 3 more times, saving me tons of money. Best yet, I never miss a call. I am now a big fan of comparison shopping.

October 15 to December 7 is the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP), when Medicare beneficiaries also get a seasonal opportunity to comparison shop. During the AEP, Medicare-eligible people can change from supplement plans, also called Medigap, to a Medicare Advantage plan, can change prescription drug plans, and can compare all the Medicare plans available in their county. They can and should check their current plan to see if anything new was added or, if due to health changes, it’s still the right fit.

Medicare beneficiaries get bombarded with ads. Some of it’s confusing, and some of it’s scary. Insurance is a very serious and important choice. We can’t compare all plans against each other, but at our customer service office at 316 5th St. in Wenatchee, we can sit down with someone in person and give them all the time and help they need to better understand. Whether they choose us or not, it’s a good feeling to know the personalized value we gave helped them to pick the right Medicare plan to fit their health needs.

Shannon Sims was a Medicare community liaison for Health Alliance, serving Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan counties in Washington. During her time off she enjoys spending time with her family and riding horses.

October, and Its Chores, Return

Long View: It’s That Time Again

There are a lot of reminders for folks to check their smoke detector batteries when daylight saving time is over. It does make sense to tie that chore to something that occurs on a regular basis. (Why not Valentine’s Day?) But, I almost always forget to do it.

It seems there are always other, more pressing things on the to-do list, like finishing up in the yard, switching out those summer clothes, or putting up the storm windows, if you’re unlucky enough to still have storm windows.

Just like these yearly chores, Medicare-eligible people need to review their healthcare coverage every year to see if their current plan still meets their needs. The days of one-size fits all are over thanks to the options-obsessed baby boomers. (I am including myself, so you know.)

If you’re a caregiver, a change in your loved one’s situation may show the need for different coverage. Have they started traveling more or less? Did their medication needs change because of things like new prescriptions or treatments for a chronic illness? Did their primary care provider retire or move? Did their current plan change? Does it still meet their needs? It’s time to explore your options.

We know you’re busy, so let’s look at a few resources:

Medicare.gov

A great one is Medicare’s website. This site is relatively easy to navigate and packed with information. You can check your plan’s Star Rating while you’re at it.

Department on Aging

Another good resource is your state’s Department on Aging. They have independent counseling services for people who are Medicare-eligible.

Area Agency on Aging

Your local Area Agency on Aging is a gold mine. Find one near you.

HealthAllianceMedicare.org

Our website is easy to navigate and gives you a nice overview of the options we have in your county.

The Annual Enrollment Period for Medicare is once again from October 15 until December 7. Sign up then for a plan that starts on January 1, 2017. The sooner you review your needs and gather information, the better you’ll be able to make an informed choice. When you’re done, you can move onto something really important, like cleaning out the junk drawer in the kitchen. Like that’s ever going to happen.

Patrick Harness is a community liaison with a long history of experience in health insurance. If you ask him to pick a color, he always chooses orange, and he is known for his inability to parallel park.

 

Finding Medicare During the Annual Enrollment Period

Vantage Point: The Season for Informed Choices

It’s October, and folks living in North Central Washington are looking forward to beautiful fall colors and freshly picked apples. For those on Medicare, it’s also the start of the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP), when beneficiaries can shop for their 2016 coverage. It runs October 15 to December 7. But because of confusing plan changes and choices, some dread the AEP rather than looking forward to it.

But there are people who can help make these decisions easier. A trusted resource for Medicare eligibility throughout the year is the Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) program. The SHIBA program was formed to help consumers understand Medicare and their options for supplementing it. SHIBA counselors keep client information 100% confidential, and their main mission is to help clients see Medicare plan comparisons so that the client can choose using unbiased and accurate information.

At educational presentations in the past, I’d learned a lot from Dick Anderson, a certified SHIBA counselor, and recently had the pleasure of meeting with him one-on-one. Hearing Dick describe some of his stories captured what a valuable service he and other advisors provide. Counseling to help others by these trained volunteers truly comes from the heart.

Dick says there’s no Medicare plan that’s right for everyone, so instead he tries to get his clients to talk about their individual needs. This helps him determine what’s most important to them, so they can make a measured choice that meets their personal needs.

The rewards for this work are illustrated by Dick’s powerful stories of people from all different backgrounds, incomes, and educational levels who have come to him heavy with feelings of helplessness and confusion and after meeting with him, left with their cloud of anxiety lifted.

At Health Alliance, we strive to have quality, sustainable Medicare plans, but we agree with Dick that there’s no perfect plan for every person’s needs. Therefore, we value and respect the work SHIBA volunteers do to help people make informed choices.

For current Health Alliance members, we’re holding special meetings the first week of October in Wenatchee, Moses Lake, and Omak about our 2016 benefits and to answer any questions.

If you want to meet with a SHIBA counselor, you can make an appointment by calling Community Choice at 1-888-452-0731 or Aging and Adult Care at 509-886-0700.

Shannon Sims is a Medicare community liaison for Health Alliance, serving Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Okanogan counties in Washington. She has four adult sons and two grandsons. During her time off, she performs as part of a rodeo drill team on her horse, Skeeter.