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Tips on talking to your parents about Medicare coverage

For many people, their first experience with Medicare is helping their parents navigate coverage.

The annual open enrollment time for Medicare is nearing. Now is the time to get up to speed on the options and decisions your parents face. Open enrollment runs from October 15 through December 7 for coverage in 2021.

Government insurance can be confusing at first, but there are some things you can do to help ensure your parents have the coverage that best fits their needs.

Understanding open enrollment

There are many sources of information available. But going straight to the source on their official website can help you understand the decisions your parents need to consider during open enrollment. This is when your parents can compare, shop and enroll in a plan for next year.

“Going with generic traditional Medicare is usually not the best option,” said Mark Meeker, DO, vice president of Community Medicine for OSF HealthCare. “There are advantages to Medicare Advantage programs.”

What can be done during open enrollment

Open enrollment for Advantage plans (Part C) and prescription drug coverage (Part D) allows you to do the following:

  • Change from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan or vice versa
  • Switch Advantage plans
  • Switch from an Advantage plan that doesn’t offer drug coverage to one that does offer drug coverage or vice versa
  • Join a Medicare prescription drug plan or drop your drug coverage completely
  • Switch from one drug plan to another

You can find Medicare plan information or compare plans by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) or by visiting Medicare.gov.

Stick with their trusted providers

Most people your parents’ age have a long-time doctor they trust with their care.

“If your parents have a long-term relationship with a physician, it’s important that they make sure their physician participates in the plan they choose,” Dr. Meeker said. “If not, find a plan their physician participates in. Or they should at least make sure there is a physician in the network they’d be comfortable seeing.”

What do your parents need?

There are questions you should ask your parents regarding the type of coverage they need based on their current health condition.

  • Do they need prescription drug coverage?
  • What can they afford?
  • What health conditions do they have that require disease management?
  • Do they want benefits like dental, vision, hearing and well-being perks?

“Look for any coverage gaps that may exist for any of your parents’ ongoing chronic disease management or expensive medications they are taking,” Dr. Meeker said.

Contact a Medicare expert

When doing your research, Dr. Meeker suggests taking advantage of free government information guides, such as the Official U.S. government Medicare Handbook.

“Also, a good health insurance specialist can really assist in special circumstances. Just be careful with any sales bias,” he said.

The good news is the government funds a resource in every state. The Senior Health Insurance Program (SHIP)  is a free, nationwide health insurance counseling service for Medicare beneficiaries and their caregivers. SHIP provides unbiased, one-on-one counseling and assistance.

Just be there for your parents

Handling your parents’ insurance coverage will be time-consuming and anxiety-producing, but it’s an important time in their lives.

Their health care coverage decisions may affect their health and financial stability, now and in the future.

Start the conversation with them today and encourage them to choose the coverage that will be best for them, now and in the future.

About Author: Lisa Coon

Lisa Coon is a Writing Coordinator for OSF HealthCare, where she has worked since August 2016.  A Peoria native, she is a graduate of Bradley University with a degree in journalism. Previously, she worked as a reporter and editor at several newspapers in Iowa and Illinois.

She lives in Groveland with her husband and son. In her free time she likes to cook, bake and read. She freely admits that reality TV is a weakness, and she lives by the quote, “The beach is good for the soul.”

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