Utahns on Medicare have until the end of this week to shop for health and prescription drug coverage for 2013.
If they're happy with their current plan, they need not do anything. But officials urge all to them to re-examine their coverage yearly.
"Premiums change, the formularies [lists of covered drugs] change, copays and deductibles change. And peoples' health needs change," said Jean Hatch, a health insurance counselor for Mountainland Aging Services, spanning Utah and Wasatch counties. "People need to look at whether their drugs are covered and how much they can afford."
This year, Hatch said, many of the companies marketing Medicare Advantage plans which are private health insurance alternatives to traditional Medicare coverage have changed their provider panels. As a result, Medicare beneficiaries in some counties are finding there are no Advantage plans to suit their needs.
"In Moab there are two Humana Advantage plans available," Hatch said, "but all the facilities down there are Intermountain Healthcare facilities and don't take Humana."
In such situations, retirees can still sign up for original Medicare and supplemental coverage.
Concerns, however, that reductions in federal funding would cause widespread pullouts from Advantage plans have proven unfounded.
Almost all plans offered this year will be available again in 2013, according to an analysis by researchers at Mathematica Policy Research and the Kaiser Family Foundation.
If all beneficiaries choose to remain in their current plans, monthly premiums would increase about 10 percent, or $4, on average, the analysis shows.
Even so, questions about the Advantage plans, coupled with concerns about the future of Medicare, have kept counselors especially busy this year, Hatch said.
Talk in Congress of reducing the deficit has "everybody nervous," Hatch said. "No one knows how it will shake out. The fiscal cliff is looming and everything is on the table."
For now, though, talk of reforming Medicare is just that, she said, and doesn't bear much on immediate enrollment decisions.
There are more than 280,000 Utahns on Medicare. Open enrollment ends Friday.
Open enrollment for Medicare beneficiaries to choose private drug plans or opt for private Medicare Advantage health plans ends Friday. To find help:
Contact your local Area Agency on Aging, which can refer you to local services offered by the Senior Health Insurance Program, or SHIP. Find a list of area agencies here: http://www.careutah.com/list10_Aging_Services_senior_centers.htm. SHIP's toll-free number is 1-800-541-7735.