How new health care law impacts Medicare

Arecent survey of adults age 65 and older, conducted for the National Council on Aging, found that most seniors are confused about or unaware of important aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as the new health care law.

Only 17 percent of the surveyed seniors knew the correct answers to more than half of the factual questions about the law, and none of the seniors knew the correct answers to all 12 questions.

The new health care law will bring significant changes to the Medicare program in the next several years. It is important for (people) to understand the health care law and what it means and does not mean for Medicare enrollees.

Medicare beneficiaries will continue to have a choice about how they receive Medicare coverage.

Medicare Advantage plans will be available for most seniors and other beneficiaries as an alternative to traditional Medicare in 2011.M

edicare Advantage plans have a track record of providing cost-effective, comprehensive health coverage, helping more than 11 million beneficiaries save money and access services not covered by traditional Medicare.

As they are reviewing their 2011 plan options, beneficiaries should ensure they are making the Medicare choices that meet their needs, whether it is a Medicare Advantage plan or traditional Medicare with or without supplemental coverage. The most important thing is to make an informed choice.

Beneficiaries enrolled in a Medicare Part D (prescription drug) plan who hit the “doughnut hole” can expect financial assistance.

As beneficiaries enter the Part D doughnut hole this year, they will receive a one-time $250 rebate check. It is estimated that 3.4 million beneficiaries will receive a rebate check this year.S

tarting in 2011, the doughnut hole will be reduced in stages until it is closed entirely in 2020. Also in 2011, beneficiaries in the doughnut hole will receive a discount on the cost of most brand-name drugs.

Beneficiaries should anticipate some changes to the enrollment periods. The new health care law eliminates the open enrollment period during the first three months of the year when Medicare Advantage enrollees could switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan.B

ecause of this change, beneficiaries must be diligent when selecting their Medicare Advantage plan during the upcoming annual election period, which starts Nov. 15 and ends Dec. 31. The annual election period will change again next year, so look for more updates in 2011.

To help understand the full scope of changes to Medicare that will gradually phase in over the next several years, Medicare beneficiaries may access resources at or at 1-800-MEDICARE.

Alexander Clague Executive Director