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Commentary: Medicare Changes and Premiums for the Coming Year


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Open enrollment for Medicare began two weeks ago. This commentary by the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services outlines what’s happening with Medicare this coming year.

This commentary is an exclusive in N.C. Health News in North Carolina.

By Marilyn Tavenner

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator

Fall is a wonderful time of year. Changing leaves. Cooler weather. It’s also the season for people with Medicare to review their current Medicare coverage, as Medicare Open Enrollment begins.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner. Photo courtesy CMS.

As we work on Medicare Open Enrollment, which began on October 15 and ends on December 7, Medicare wants everyone to know that quality continues to improve both in Medicare Advantage and in the Part D Prescription Drug Program.

Each year, plan costs and coverage can change. During open enrollment, seniors and people with disabilities across the country have the opportunity to review their current Medicare coverage and see if they want to make any changes for the next year. It’s important for people with Medicare to take the time to make sure their current situation still meets their health care needs best.

To help people choose a plan, Medicare calculates plan “star ratings” for Medicare health and prescription drug plans. Each plan gets a number of stars on a scale of 1 to 5 – with 5 being the best – based on quality and performance. These ratings are designed to help people with Medicare, their families and caregivers compare plans, in addition to information on their premiums and benefits.

This year, people with Medicare who choose to enroll in a Medicare health or prescription drug plan will have access to more high-rated, four- and five-star plans than ever before. Approximately 60 percent of Medicare Advantage enrollees are in a Medicare Advantage Plan earning four or more stars in 2015, compared to an estimated 17 percent back in 2009. Likewise, about 53 percent of Part D enrollees are currently enrolled in stand-alone prescription drug plans with four or more stars for 2015, compared to just 16 percent in 2009.

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, enrollment in Medicare Advantage will increase to 42 percent to an all-time high of over 16 million and Medicare Advantage premiums will have decreased by 6 percent.

For people with Medicare, this is good news in how they receive care. Plans that are higher rated deliver a high level of care, such as improving the coordination of care, managing diabetes or other chronic conditions more efficiently, screening for and preventing illnesses, making sure people get much-needed prescription drugs or getting appointments and care quickly. A high rating also means these plans give better customer service, with fewer complaints or long waits for care.

Click here to find a list of SHIP contacts for each of N.C.’s 100 counties. If you have Medicare and need assistance, you can visit Medicare.gov, call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) or contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). You should have received the 2015 “Medicare & You” Handbook and important notices from your current plan, Medicare or Social Security about changes to your coverage. If you’re satisfied with your current coverage, there’s nothing you need to do.

Better quality in Medicare health and prescription drug plans isn’t the only good news for people with Medicare. For most seniors who have Original Medicare, the 2015 Part B premium will stay unchanged for a second consecutive year at $104.90. This means more of seniors’ retirement income and any increase in Social Security benefits will stay in their pockets. The Part B deductible will stay the same as well.

Medicare is working hard to make sure this good news continues so that seniors and people with disabilities will continue to get the health care coverage they deserve.

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About Commentary

Commentaries are informed opinions from folks who know their subject well, and meant to enlighten.

However, the opinions presented here are not the opinions of North Carolina Health News or our fiscal sponsor.