Time to Prepare for Medicare: Community Resources For Help With Your Plan

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Contributing Writer
Robert Houston

What do Halloween and Medicare have in common? October.

The first of our chilly months ends with a celebration of witches and ghosts and goblins. Great fun for the whole family.

October begins, though, with a bit of homework for those of us recently retired or well into our, as they say, Golden Years. We have the opportunity now to change our Medicare plan for the following year, to make sure our personal plan matches our individual needs. 

This can be complicated, because Medicare’s various health insurance plans often change. And this is the only time of the year we can make our own alterations.

Need Help?

To help us do that, Medicare has sent us a booklet full of information and instructions. For some of us, the booklet is just as confusing at the one we get at income tax time. There’s just a huge amount of information to understand and some pretty serious decisions we have to make. Confusion is the last thing we need.

Of course, some people have no problem at all dealing with the potential chaos of Open Enrollment.

Chuck and Sue Bova of Falconer, for example, said, “we don’t do anything at all to change our current plan. We keep it the same every year. It’s always been satisfactory for us.”

Others, like John Silo of Jamestown, warn those of us concerned with changes to our Medicare plans to “do your homework.” This is good advice, given the many change in Medicare’s health insurance plans each year during Open Enrollment.

Doing our homework can be a problem in itself. Open Enrollment runs from October first through the end of December. This means that while you are busy with Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, at the same time, you are trying to figure out what to do with Medicare, especially if you are signing up for the first time.

“Signing up is relatively easy,” Silo said. “But when it comes to changing something, like changing doctors, it can get difficult.”

Silo said it took him a month to just change his doctor.

“The problem,” he said, “was not knowing how the insurance works. You have to follow their rules. It can drive you crazy sometimes.”

Medicare plans are “broken up,” Silo said, “into A and B and D parts. You have to understand the rules for each part,” to make the best decision about which plan or plans to take.

In short, he said, “You have to be your own advocate. You have to listen to the choices, not let yourself get overwhelmed, and then make the best decision you can.”

This is good advice for those of us who can keep our heads above water while being inundated with information. For those of us who need a little — or a lot — of help, Chautauqua County residents are lucky.

Confused about what to do about your Medicare health care plan during this year’s Open Enrollment? You’re not alone. But don’t worry, help is available.

Free and Unbiased

A good place to start is the Office for the Aging. There, you will find expert counseling on your Medicare health insurance plan. And the counseling session is free of charge.

Christine Cheronis, Medicare Health Insurance Coordinator for  the organization, explained that “Seniors should definitely take this Open Enrollment opportunity to review your Medicare plan. Coverage can change from year to year, and you don’t want to say ‘oh oh, my plan doesn’t cover the new medicine I need.’ You want to make certain your plan covers everything you need and expect it to cover.”

While there are many other organizations, agencies, and individuals who offer health care counseling, Cheronis said, “the Office for the Aging is the only organization in Chautauqua County that is certified by the state of New York to provide unbiased healthcare counseling.”

Unbiased, of course, means the Office for the Aging does not favor any particular health care plan, private or governmental. Cheronis said counselors there will help you decide which Medicare plan is best for your individual situation.

“Last year, for example,” she said, “we saved the residents of Chautauqua County $500,000. 

That’s a lot of groceries.

“We’re a one–stop shop for healthcare insurance counseling,” she said.

Because this is the Office of the Aging’s busiest time of year, Cheronis said, “Anyone who would like to take advantage of our Medicare counseling should call New York Connect at (716) 753–4582. 

New York Connect will put you into the system and the Office for the Aging will schedule an appointment.

Cheronis, clearly proud of her organization and her counselors, said, “We get a lot of smiles and a lot of hugs from people when they’re done with our counseling.”

Another Resource

Lutheran Social Services recently held Medicare information sessions for the general public. Those sessions have ended. However, Janell Sluga, Geriatric Care Manager at Lutheran Social Services, said individual and family counseling appointments are now available.

“We help them make adjustments to their Medicare plans when there’s a problem, when their plans are not doing what they need to do for them,” Slugo said.

There is a fee for the 60 to 90–minute sessions.

Visit Medicare Online

While the Chautauqua County Office for the Aging offers experienced and free help with your Medicare healthcare insurance planning, your questions can also be answered by most local insurance brokers and agents. 

Or if you prefer, you can visit the government’s official Medicare website at www.medicare.gov. The answers to many of your general Medicare questions can be found there, and at the Social Security Administration website at www.ssa.gov/medicare.

New Medicare Cards

For 2019, Medicare has come up with a new card. The card will bear a new Medicare number that is uniquely yours. The number is NOT, as it has been in the past, your Social Security Number. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the idea behind the new card is “to protect your information and help prevent Medicare Fraud.”

Medicare has been mailing the new cards since April. You should have received yours by now. However, if you’re like me and have not yet received your new card, here is what to do:

1. Check your home for old or unopened mail. The card would be in a plain white envelope from the Department of Health and Human Services.

2. If you don’t find the card, it may have been sent to a previous address. Call 1–800–MEDICARE (1–800–633–4227) to report the situation. TTY users should call 1–877–486–2048. If the problem is a wrong address, it can be fixed quickly.

Meanwhile, you can continue using your current Medicare card to obtain health care services.

Or, you can update your mailing address online by logging into or creating a “my Social Security” access. For more information, visit www.medicare.gov/newcard