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Important change in dates for Medicare participants


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SALT LAKE CITY -- The dates to enroll for Medicare or change your Medicare health plan have been moved up. Those who work with Medicare want to make sure people know about the change.

Previously the Medicare annual enrollment period began in the middle of November. But it's now starting Saturday, Oct. 15 and will end on Dec. 7.

The National Council on Aging says less than 10 percent of seniors know about the change.

It affects a lot of people. More than 280,000 Utahns are currently enrolled in Medicare. For those on Advantage or Part D plans, it's good to reevaluate every year because things like drug costs and premiums change.

This year it's especially important because there's a change in prescription drug coverage.

Those enrolled in Medicare Part D will now get a higher discount on generic drugs once they're in what's called the "coverage gap," where they've surpassed a certain limit and have to pay 100 percent of the drug costs themselves. During that time, generic drugs will now be discounted 14 percent, which is double the previous discount.

Brand-name drugs will remain at a 50 percent discount.

Another positive change in Medicare this year: Those with Part B will now get a free annual wellness visit.

Darren Hotton, director of the Senior Health Insurance Information Program, explained, "They can review their height, their weight, talk about health risks. They can also look at their prescriptions to make sure their prescriptions aren't counteracting each other. They can also do a test to make sure they don't have dementia, too."

Medicare experts warn that they see an increase in fraud during annual enrollment time. They caution seniors to be tight-lipped with anyone who calls them offering help.

"If they're calling you, there's a reason they're calling you, so be careful," Hotton advised. "And verify. Never give out your bank information or Social Security number or Medicare identification."

Medicare counselor

Medicare is no longer offering its Advantage plan in Wayne County. So if participants don't want to lose their prescription drug coverage, they need to sign up for a new drug plan.

If you're on Medicare, the best thing to do is meet with someone to go over the best choices for you. The state offers free counselors. Call 1-800-541-7735 or go to www.medicare.gov.

E-mail: tpapanikolas@ksl.com

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