Health: Beware the Medicare Open Enrollment Period

We’re now in the thick of the Medicare Open Enrollment Period, the annual year-end window in which seniors can change their Medicare plans, and with the open enrollment period has come a barrage of advertisements using everything from former football star Joe Namath to promises of free glasses and hearing aids to attempt to sell plans.

The Suffolk County Office of the Aging is on to this scheme, and they have a bevy of counselors on hand this season to help seniors understand their Medicare options and risks.

Pat Orsino, of the Office of the Aging, told attendees at Southold Town’s Mattituck Human Resource Center not to hesitate to pester the county’s Medicare helpline with questions during a before-lunch talk at the center’s senior lunch program Oct. 25.

The helpline can be reached at 631.979.9490, ext. 18.

“A lot of people think this is an open field on shopping for another program,” said Ms. Orsino, who cautioned that it is very easy to be sucked into promises of more benefits pitched by insurance salespeople who don’t disclose hidden costs.

Ms. Orsino advised attendees to do their homework when considering a new plan, comparing changes in premium costs and whether the new plan has the same doctors in network as their old plan.

She urged the seniors to ask for their kids’ help in advocating  for their interests if they are overwhelmed by the choices.

“They were a burden to us. Be a burden to them,” she said. “Salesmen get commissions for selling you a plan. They would sell the Brooklyn Bridge if they could get a commission.”

“You have to advocate for yourself,” she added. “A lot of seniors say ‘you pick a plan for me’ (when they call the helpline). We can’t do that, but we can help you compare your choices.”

Ms. Orsino also urged the seniors to sign up for the Part D drug program, which they must enroll in in addition to other Medicare parts. 

“I had someone who was 84 years old who never had a Part D plan. She had to pay a penalty of 16 years when she needed to sign up,” she said. “If you’re not taking anything, good for you. But there are no bargains. You’ve got to get it covered.”

She also urged anyone still eligible for an employer-sponsored insurance plan to keep that coverage as long as they can.

“Once you drop it, you can never have it again,” she said.

The Medicare Open Enrollment Period ends Dec. 7.

Ms. Orsino also told attendees about the Suffolk Chapter of the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program, which helps seniors continue to share their skills with the community, from refurbishing computers to sharing their knowledge through public speaking to knitting programs.

“Elders are full of wisdom, and can give back to the community,” she said. Ms. Orsino can be reached for more information about the program at porsino@optonline.net.

Representatives from the Office of the Aging also heard testimony from the lunch program’s attendees in their annual listening tour looking to find unmet senior citizen needs.

But what they found in Mattituck was a grateful crew, who gave nearly an hour of testimony to how the center, and its good cooking, had made a difference in their lives.

Many spoke of how they became overcome with emotion and were unable to cook for themselves after the death of a spouse, prompting their relatives to urge them to join in the social activities and get their hot meals at the senior center.

For more information on the Mattituck Senior Services center, call 631.298.4460.

— Beth Young

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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