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What is Medicare Advantage?

As you know the open enrollment for Medicare Part D ended December 31. Whatever Medicare Part D plan in which you are now enrolled, you must remain until the next open enrollment which will take place November 15 - December 31. At that time you may select a new Part D plan for 2009.

However from now until March 31 you may enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan. Or you may switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another. But you cannot switch from Medicare Advantage back to Traditional Medicare and a Part D plan.

What is Medicare Advantage? Well in Traditional Medicare you have your Part A (hospital) and Part B (doctors office visits) coverage through the Federal Government. Part D (drugs) can be purchased separately from private companies. In Medicare Advantage you get Parts A, B, <*I>and<*P> D from a private company. You can still have the cost of Parts A and B deducted from your Social Security check, but <*I>all<*P> your claims, hospital, doctor visits, and medications, will be processed by a private company according to that company.

The good news about most Medicare Advantage plans is that your drug coverage is free. If you are paying $30-$60 a month for prescription drug coverage you would save $360-$720 a year by switching to a Medicare Advantage plan. And some of these plans may offer coverage that you currently get through a Medicare Supplement policy and enable you to save even more by canceling your Medicare Supplement. That's the good news.

However the bad news about Medicare Advantage is that some of these plans do not offer coverage as good as you get with Traditional Medicare. I found this out the first year this coverage was offered when a lady called me from Oakwood Manor. She had had a broken hip repaired and was now on skilled care for rehab. However she was told her Medicare Advantage plan would only pay for three days of skilled care, not 28 days like Traditional Medicare. This was her third day and she would have to start paying on her own the next day or be sent home. Fortunately by calling 1/800-MEDICARE she was able to get switched back into Traditional Medicare. I don't know if they still do this.

The problem of choosing a good Medicare Advantage plan is made more difficult by the fact that many of these plans are sold by telemarketers and door to door salesmen. These people usually sell only one company's plan and are often more interested in making a commission than in looking out for the best interests of their customers. Telemarketers sometimes exploit the isolation of an elderly person and get their signature on something they don't fully understand.

I strongly urge everyone who is Medicare eligible not to buy a Medicare Advantage plan from a door to door salesman, a telemarketer, or someone selling insurance in a store or mall. For those interested in Medicare Advantage I'd encourage you to go to a professional who will enter your medications into the computer at the www.medicare.gov Web site and show you which plans the computer says will give you the best coverage for the least money. Then ask the salesperson to give you a booklet that compares that company's product to Traditional Medicare. Go through the booklet item by item and compare your traditional coverage to the coverage you would get by switching to that company's Medicare Advantage plan. Only after you have done this should you switch to a Medicare Advantage plan.

If you or someone you love is Medicare eligible and lives alone do not let a door to door salesman into your home or give information over the phone to a telemarketer. If you have been talked into signing a Medicare Advantage contract and feel you have made a mistake you can drop it. Call Parish Nurse Pam Willoughby at St. John's Episcopal Church, 586-9582 for help in doing this, advice on how to report someone for fraud or high pressure sales, or for more information on Medicare Advantage.

The views in this letter are my own. I do not speak for my church or any other organization.

Rev. Geoff Hubbard


Ringing the bell

During November and December 2007, members of the Bedford Rotary Club rang the bell and conducted the Salvation Army Kettle Campaign to raise funds for needy families.

Because of the Rotary Club?s community spirit and concern for the less fortunate, more than $2,900 was collected for the Salvation Army. While 10 percent of these funds will be sent to Lynchburg for administrative expenses, over $2,600 will remain in Bedford County to assist local families who experience sudden, unexpected emergencies.

We are very grateful to the Bedford Rotary Club for the time, energy, and effort that they invested to enable us to serve their neighbors in need. Thank you so much.

Karen Hughes and Wanda Cooper

Bedford Service Unit of the Salvation Army