Though the array of Medicare Part D drug coverage plans available to Becker County residents isn't quite as confusing as it once was, the enrollment process can still be a bewildering one.
"In 2009, there were 46 (Medicare Part D) drug plans in the state of Minnesota. For 2012, there are 33 plans." said Karen Lenius, who serves as coordinator of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) at Mahube Community Council, as well as being the Becker County coordinator on aging.
The biggest problem is, not all Part D coverage plans are available in every county; plans available in Otter Tail County might not be available in Becker County, and vice versa, Lenius added.
Each year, Medicare recipients have a small window of opportunity to enroll in, or make changes to, their Medicare Part D drug coverage plans. This year's enrollment window began on Oct. 15, and will end this Tuesday, Dec. 7.
Since the enrollment window opened on Oct. 15, volunteers with the RSVP program at Mahube have been working tirelessly to answer questions from area seniors about the enrollment process.
"No popular drug plans have gone away this year, but (area seniors) may be concerned that maybe their premiums will be going up, so they come in to see if maybe there's a more cost-effective plan for them," Lenius said.
Each year, Mahube facilitates training for its staff and volunteers who offer counseling to Medicare clients.
"There are changes (to Medicare Part D coverage) every year, said Lois Greenig, aging assistance coordinator for Mahube. "We have training every fall, before the enrollment period starts, to update us on what's happening with the program."
For instance, last year's "Obama care" legislation helped to alleviate a drug plan coverage gap -- often referred to as "the donut hole" -- between what clients actually pay for their drugs, and the maximum amount that is covered under the plan.
The new legislation allowed for a 50 percent discount on covered, brand name drugs, and 7 percent discount on generic drugs, once a client reaches the coverage gap, Greenig noted.
Though it's important for all Medicare recipients to choose a drug coverage plan that is right for them, those who are already enrolled in a plan don't need to re-enroll each year, Lenius said.
"If you don't do anything (to change your coverage), it will just continue for another year," she said.
But once the window closes, at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 7, no more changes can be made to an individual's Medicare Part D coverage until Oct. 15, 2012, she added.
For those new Medicare recipients who are not enrolled in any drug plan by the time the window closes on Dec. 7, "a penalty could be assessed if you decided to enroll later on (between Dec. 8-Oct. 14, 2012)," Lenius said.
"Choosing a drug plan is important so you get the full benefit of Medicare enrollment," Lenius said.
Though RSVP volunteers and Mahube staff are no longer accepting appointments for Medicare Part D consultation this year, people can still self-enroll online at www.medicare.gov, she added.
Those with questions about the online enrollment process can still call the Minnesota Senior Linkage line at 1-800-333-2433 for more information. (The Senior Linkage Line is operated by the Minnesota Board on Aging.)