Q: I received a notice that my Medicare Advantage plan will no longer be part of Medicare after Jan. 1, so I need to pick a new plan. With so many plans available, how do I choose?
A: All Medicare enrollees should have gotten notice by now that the Medicare open enrollment season has begun. Medicare beneficiaries have through Dec. 7 to decide whether they want to stay with their current plan — whether it's a Medicare Advantage managed-care plan or original Medicare — or switch coverage to something else.
In addition, about 35,000 Virginians with Medicare Advantage managed-care plans should have received notice that they absolutely need to pick a new plan because their old plan is leaving the Medicare program.
The federal Medicare website has a lot of information on plans available at www.medicare.gov. Also, there is a toll-free telephone line people can call for help: (800) 633-4227. TTY users should call (877) 486-2048.
The Medicare program also supports programs in every state that provides insurance counselors who can answer questions. The Virginia Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program also helps people sort through their Medicare options. VICAP counselors work out of Area Agencies on Aging.
- In the Richmond area, the VICAP program is offered through Senior Connections, The Capital Area Agency on Aging. The VICAP intake line is (804) 343-3014).
- In the Tri-Cities area, VICAP counselors are available at the Crater Area Agency on Aging. Call (804) 732-7020 and ask for the VICAP counselor.
Others can call the state's division for the aging at (800) 552-3402 to get a number for the VICAP program serving their community.
"A lot of folks are coming in as a result of Anthem leaving the vast majority of our service area," said David Sadowski Jr., consumer advocate at the Crater Area Agency on Aging.
"Anthem was a really strong company the last couple of open enrollment sessions," he said.
Companies can make a business decision to leave the program.
Medicare also has started rating Medicare Advantage plans — giving a higher number of stars to plans deemed better performers. Beneficiaries in poor-performing plans are being sent letters to let them know they have other options, said Nancy O'Connor, a regional administrator for Medicare, during a recent trip to Richmond.
"We would encourage them to get into a higher-rated plan," O'Connor said.
She said whether people have to pick a new plan or not, they should make sure they are getting coverage that meets their needs. Health status and prescription drug needs change, she said.
"Even if you think you're OK, it's a good time to just take an assessment. If you're happy and if you can afford your plan and if you have the coverage that you need for your health care services and you drug coverage, then you don't have to do anything."