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Senior scene

October 1, 2011

Social Security: 'Open season' for Medicare prescription drugs nears

It's that time of year again.

"Open season" is right around the corner for the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, and finding the best plan to fit your needs is very important.

Newly eligible Medicare beneficiaries, and current beneficiaries who are considering changes to their Medicare Part D plan, should mark their calendars for Oct. 15. This year, the "open season" will run from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.

The Medicare Part D prescription drug program is available to all Medicare beneficiaries to help with the costs of medications.

Joining a Medicare prescription drug plan is voluntary, and participants pay an additional monthly premium for the coverage.

While all Medicare beneficiaries can participate in the prescription drug program, some people with limited income and resources also are eligible for "Extra Help" to pay for monthly premiums, annual deductibles and prescription co-payments. The Extra Help is worth about $4,000 a year.

To figure out whether you are eligible for the Extra Help, Social Security needs to know your income and the value of any savings, investments and real estate (other than the home you live in).

To qualify, you must be receiving Medicare, and your income must be less than $16,335 for an individual or $22,065 for a married couple living together. Even if your annual income is higher, you still may be able to get some help with monthly premiums, annual deductibles and prescription co-payments.

Some examples where your income may be higher include if you or your spouse support other family members who live with you or have earnings from work. Your resources must be under $12,640 for an individual or $25,260 for a married couple living together.

Resources include such things as bank accounts, stocks and bonds. We do not count your house or car as resources.

You can complete an easy-to-use online application for Extra Help at www.socialsecurity.gov.

Go to the Medicare tab on the top of the page. Then go to "Apply For Extra Help With Medicare Prescription Plan Costs."

To apply for the Extra Help by phone or have an application mailed to you, call Social Security at (800) 772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778) and ask for the Application for Extra Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs (SSA-1020).

If you are in the market for a new Part D plan, you can visit www.medicare.gov/find-a-plan to compare your current coverage with all of the options that are available in your area, and enroll in a new plan if you decide to make a change. Call (800) MEDICARE (633-4227) (TTY 877-486-2048) to find out more about your coverage options.

You should also review the Medicare & You 2012 handbook, which was recently sent to all Medicare recipients. If you are looking for some one-on-one help with Medicare issues, contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP).

You can reach the New York State SHIP at (800) 701-0501 or the Statewide Senior Action Council at (800) 333-4374 for additional guidance.

So this open season, after you have chosen the prescription drug plan that's right for you, go online or call us at (877) 628-6581 to find out if you qualify for the Extra Help through Social Security. The process is quick, easy, and could save you around $4,000 per year.

tracey L. weaver is district manager of the Oneonta office of the Social Security Administration. 'Senior Scene' columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/seniorscene.

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