THURSDAY, Sept. 15 (HealthDay News) -- The open enrollment
period for Medicare will begin earlier this year, so seniors need
to start looking at their current plans to decide what coverage
they want in 2012, U.S. health officials said Thursday.
The good news is that while benefits will remain essentially the
same for the 99.7 percent of Medicare recipients who have access to
Medicare Advantage, premiums for that program will fall 4 percent,
according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
(HHS), which oversees the program.
Meanwhile, overall enrollment is expected to increase 10
percent, health officials said. Although the enrollment period will
last longer this year it will end earlier, on Dec. 7 instead of
Dec. 31, they added.
"As we continue to implement the Affordable Care Act, we are taking the right approach to Medicare," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said during a Thursday morning news conference. "An approach that begins by improving benefits instead of cutting them, and continues to slow the growth in costs."
All beneficiaries will have access to Medicare-covered
preventive services without a co-pay or deductible, including
Annual Wellness Visits, in 2012, Sebelius added. Also, people who
reach the donut hole in their drug coverage will get discounts on
brand name drugs and expanded coverage for generic drugs as part of
the Affordable Care Act, she noted.
Premiums for the Medicare Part D, the prescription drug plan,
will remain the same, Sebelius said.
"The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services [CMS] is encouraging beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare Advantage and Medicare Prescription Drug plans to review their current health and drug plan coverage for any changes their plans may be making for 2012 before the annual open enrollment period begins on Oct. 15," the agency said.
Speaking at the news conference, Jonathan Blum, deputy
administrator and director of CMS, said that in 2012 Medicare
Advantage patients will have "better benefits, consistent number of
choices and lower average premiums."
For the first time, CMS will reward Medicare Advantage plans
with high quality scores through its so called "Five-Star" rating
system. Plans that earn these financial rewards will also be
allowed to market to and enroll new patients all year long, Blum
Those currently enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan will be
automatically switched to original Medicare if they do not choose a
plan. But to keep prescription drug coverage, everyone will need to
enroll in a Part D plan, the agency stressed.
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