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Medicare Advantage disenrollment period nears end [Sun Sentinel]

Feb. 13-- It's last call for seniors who want to make changes to their 2013 Medicare health-care coverage. That gives seniors who are unhappy with their plan choice two days to kiss their carriers goodbye and go back to traditional Medicare. Edith Gooden-Thompson, the Broward County coordinator for Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders, says her volunteer...

By Diane C. Lade, Sun Sentinel
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Feb. 13--It's last call for seniors who want to make changes to their 2013 Medicare health-care coverage.

The disenrollment period for Medicare HMO-style plans or stand-alone prescription coverage, which started Jan. 1, ends at midnight Thursday. That gives seniors who are unhappy with their plan choice two days to kiss their carriers goodbye and go back to traditional Medicare.

Another option: Those who joined a Medicare HMO without drug coverage, and now wish they had help with medication cost, can add one of the stand-alone prescription plans.

Any changes made during this disenrollment period will remain in effect through the calendar year.

However, seniors can't switch from one managed care plan to another now, or go from traditional Medicare into managed care. That possibility ended Dec. 7, when open enrollment closed.

Edith Gooden-Thompson, the Broward County coordinator for Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders, says her volunteer Medicare counselors hear from only a few people after the beginning of the year. These people usually have "extreme cases," Gooden-Thompson said, such as seniors who discover their new plan doesn't include one of their essential medications, or are denied coverage for a procedure.

"Most people are pretty solid with what they have by the time we get to January," she said.

Her government-funded SHINE office, which assisted more than 3,000 people with 2013 enrollments, saw more baby boomers new to Medicare this time, Gooden-Thompson said. They tended to be much more savvy about Medicare Advantage than older seniors and very specific about what benefits they wanted, she said.

Getting Medicare coverage through Medicare Advantage plans offered by private providers has become increasingly popular, particularly in South Florida. Half of Broward County's 128,753 Medicare beneficiaries, and about a third of the 88,654 in Palm Beach County, had these policies last year. That's far higher than the 27 percent nationwide enrolled in 2012 private plans.

There are a few exceptions to enrollment deadlines. Low-income people on both Medicaid and Medicare can sign up for plans designated for them at any time. Seniors also may be allowed to switch plans throughout the year if their existing plan loses its contract, they move, they lose their employer coverage, or they become eligible for a special-needs plan due to a chronic medical condition.

New! Check out InsuranceNewsNet's Blog.

SHINE counselors can help with Medicare questions throughout the year. Call 800-963-5337.

To review plan choices, go to our South Florida Medicare guide at: SunSentinel.com/health/medicare. Or for more information, call Medicare at 800-633-4227.

dlade@tribune.com, or 954-356-4295.

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(c)2013 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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