Deadline to Switch Medicare Plans Nears

The open season for Medicare participants closes at the end of the month. Millions of people have until March 31 to switch Medicare health plans. Joanne Silberner reports on who might want to switch, and how they can do it.

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And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Before many people face the deadline to file their taxes, they have another deadline. On March 31st there's a deadline for people with certain types of Medicare to make changes in how they get their healthcare. It's a big decision.

NPR's Joanne Silberner reports on why people might want to change and how they can do it.

JOANNE SILBERNER: Millions of elderly people are enrolled in something called Medicare Advantage. That's where people join managed care plans that offer benefits like dental services or lower co-payments to see a doctor. But they can only use certain doctors and hospitals.

Paul Precht with the advocacy group Medicare Rights Center says health plans can change and some people may want to switch.

Mr. PAUL PRECHT (Medicare Rights Center): Folks that have found that their HMO, for example, no longer includes their doctor or the local hospital in the network.

SILBERNER: Or their drug plan doesn't cover a specific drug. Precht suggests people who switch do it carefully.

Mr. PRECHT: One, to make sure that their doctor takes the plan. And two, to look at the coverage.

SILBERNER: What are the co-payments, and is there coverage for very high bills? People can switch by going to www.medicare.gov, calling 1-800-MEDICARE, calling their state health insurance program, or simply signing on to a new plan.

Precht cautions that switches at this late date might take a week or so into April to become activated. There are, of course, rules. People who have a Medicare Advantage plan that does not include drug coverage can only switch to another plan without drug coverage and vice versa.

Until next year, after March 31st the only people who can switch are people who signed up for plans that were misrepresented by insurers.

Joanne Silberner, NPR News.

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