By Catherine Field, Intermountain Vice President for Senior Products, Humana
Caregivers are trusted allies, so it’s no surprise that many people reach out to them for advice and guidance when it’s time to choose a Medicare plan.
There’s a large and growing number of people who are serving as caregivers to their parents, relatives and friends, many of whom don’t have the resources to conduct their own research. According to the National Caregiver Alliance, “approximately 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the prior 12 months.”
Caregivers are also clearly stretched for time, since many of them are working full-time jobs in addition to caring for a loved one.
So, if you’re a caregiver, help is on the way. Here are five simple tips to help evaluate Medicare plan options and aid in the enrollment process for 2017:
- Allow yourself plenty of time – The Annual Election Period (AEP) for Medicare Advantage and Medicare prescription drug coverage began last month and runs through December 7. As the caregiver, make sure you and your loved one start early so you can make the right decision. Great sites, such as www.Medicare.gov and www.humana.com/Medicare, are excellent online resources for finding the right plans for the loved one you care for.
- Confirm the prescriptions your loved one needs – Managing prescriptions drugs is not easy. When researching Medicare options, be sure to conduct an inventory of the prescriptions your loved one is taking. Write down the names, the dosages, when and how they are taken, and, where they’re being filled. Make copies of this list so loved ones and friends are in the loop, too.
- Discuss preferences for doctor visits – If the person you’re helping to enroll in a Medicare plan is comfortable with a primary care physician coordinating their care within a network of Medicare-approved doctors, a Medicare Advantage HMO plan may be a good fit. HMO plans often have a low or even zero monthly plan premium, although the person you’re caring for will typically need to continue to pay his or her Part B premium. If the person you are caring for wants more flexibility in choosing a doctor, a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) or Private Fee-for-Service (PFFS) plan may be a good plan option. There are also Medicare Supplement insurance plans, which allow more options for selecting a doctor. These plans don’t provide prescription coverage but a standalone prescription drug plan can be purchased as well.
- Balance the budget with health care needs. Many people with Medicare are living on fixed incomes. This makes it critical to review any current Medicare health plan and take a close look at how much has been spent on health care during the past year. Be sure to include hospital expenses, pharmacy costs and doctor bills. This will help to determine—to the best of your ability—the health care expenses expected in 2017 and whether his or her current Medicare health plan still fits within the budget and household finances.
- Communicate clearly with the care team – Involve everyone who needs to take part in making these decisions – children, siblings, friends, and other caregivers. By working together as a team–like you do in caregiving—you’ll be able to gather the best information. Others may have done this before, so share knowledge as you go.
Make sure you look at all plan options, including Medicare Advantage plans, the private alternative to Original Medicare. Medicare Advantage plans often offer zero or low monthly plan premiums (although, Part B premiums typically must continue to be paid), set cost-share, and lower or no deductibles compared to Original Medicare. These plans also offer maximum out of pocket cost protection.
Caregiving is a difficult task, but choosing a Medicare plan doesn’t have to add to the stress if you follow these simple tips.
Catherine Field, based in Federal Way, Wash., is Intermountain Vice President for Senior Products at Humana.