6 Oct 20220 Comments
Great news! Two new Westchester County Medicare helplines are now operational—and available to all county residents—to assist callers who have questions about Medicare Parts A, B and D, Medigap plans, Advantage plans, enrollment, and cost-saving programs.
The helplines are provided through the SBIC (Senior Benefits Individual Counseling) services of the Westchester Library System (WLS). Northern Westchester residents can call 347-441-0566; southern Westchester residents should call 914-417-9102.
So whether you are already a Medicare recipient or soon to be Medicare-eligible, planning your retirement or assisting others with their medical decisions and paperwork, you can now get help—at no cost—to determine what coverage might work best for your situation.
Callers to the Medicare Helplines are asked to leave their name, telephone number, the town they live in, and the best time for a call back. A counselor will then connect with them for a phone conversation, or to set up an online meeting or an in-person session at a local library. Counselors can also be reached by email at SBICmedia@gmail.com.
The WLS also hosts Demystifying Medicare Online (seniors.westchesterlibraries.org/demystifyingmedicare/), where interested residents can find an audio version of the comprehensive and upbeat free workshops given across the county each spring and fall, as well as [printable] PDF documents of the handouts used and a schedule of future events. A number of counselors give presentations on Medicare and senior entitlements to county residents on a regular basis.
Free in-person, walk-in Medicare counseling is also back at two Westchester County libraries at their SBIC centers. Sessions are available at the Grinton I. Will Library in Yonkers (1500 Central Park Avenue) the first Thursday of every month, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the computer room, and at the John C. Hart Memorial Library in Shrub Oak (1130 East Main Street), on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month, also from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Additional walk-in arrangements are being discussed in preparation for the fall enrollment period—October 15 to December 7—when Medicare recipients can make changes to the plans they have.
Trained volunteer counselors will help answer your questions about Medicare: from eligibility and signing up, understanding the differences between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage Plans to drug coverage and Medigap. No appointment is necessary!
Counseling for all these programs—in person or on the phone—is provided by HIICAP-certified volunteers (Health Insurance Information Counseling and Assistance Program), in partnership with the Westchester County Department of Senior Programs and Services (914-813-6100) and the WLS. Check for updates to all of these Medicare help programs at seniors.westchesterlibraries.org/.
WHAT’S IMPORTANT IN THE NEXT FEW MONTHS
Be aware of the changes coming to Medicare through legislation and the political clout of insurance companies. Some of these might sound great on paper, but a closer look may cause concern. ACO REACH is a CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) initiative designed to improve coordination of care in Original Medicare, but it invites many types of for-profit entities to manage healthcare. Whereas Advantage plans can keep 15% of incoming dollars (from CMS) for profit and administrative costs, these new entities are allowed 40%—begging the question, Will you get the care your doctor prescribes? Any company, even a hedge fund, can apply to be a REACH entity, and if your provider joins one of these, you’d be automatically transferred into the new arrangement and unable to extract yourself without losing that doctor.
The Part B premium, which had been raised considerably in 2022 may be lowered for 2023, but we won’t know until the fall. Income limits for Medicaid and Medicare Savings Programs are being increased, which will allow more people to get financial help. Expect that the Medicare protocols that have been relaxed during the Covid Public Health Emergency will tighten up once it ends.
If you’re on an Advantage plan, re-familiarize yourself with their Evidence of Coverage to assess whether the benefits and cost-sharing components will still work for you in the coming year. And when you’re deluged with advertisements from industry players, make sure to open and read the letters you get from any of your current insurance companies. They might actually be trying to tell you what coverage changes they’re making in your plan for 2023!