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FL Question: What are You, and Your Medicare Plan, Doing New Year's Eve?

December 15, 2008

Time is running out for Floridians to choose a Medicare supplemental insurance plan. Seniors face big increases in their premiums this year, so Medicare is urging them to review their options before the open enrollment period ends on New Year's Eve.

Jim Mulcahy is the coordinator of SHINE (Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders), which offers free help to the 65-plus set on Medicare decisions. Because insurance companies are making changes in coverage, care and cost, he warns them that the worst choice is to do nothing.

"In January, when they go to their health care providers, they may get a big surprise. They may hear, 'Oh, we don't cover that any more,' or 'We don't accept that plan anymore.' And then they'll really have to start scrambling."

According to Mulcahy, most Florida plans raised premiums by 31 percent, and one increased by up to 77 percent. He says insurors also made changes in deductibles, providers and prescription coverage.

To help seniors decipher these changes and weigh their options, Mulcahy says there are 440 trained SHINE volunteers throughout the state. In order to make the best choices, Mulcahy says, seniors should take their Medicare card and a list of their medications and doctors when they meet with a SHINE counselor.

"These elders are trying to make a decision and get through the holidays. It's quite stressful, so we talk to them, calm them down and then help them."

Mulcahy believes more people are buying supplemental insurance this year because many companies are no longer covering their retirees. And 3.5 million Florida seniors do not have any supplemental insurance because of the cost, he adds. He encourages these people to search for room in their budgets because Medicare only covers 80 percent of the bill.

"You're hoping you're going to be healthy. But as the years go by, like an old car, the parts start to wear out and you have to get them fixed. People need health insurance because medical costs are unbelievable."

Additional information is available by calling 1-800-963-5337, or online at www.floridashine.org.

Gina Presson/Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL