MARQUETTE - Lisa Balko is already booked up through Nov. 2.
That's because the time is now for seniors to look at their Medicare Part D coverage and Balko, as social work coordinator for the Marquette Senior Center, is helping people review their coverage.
"I am seeing up to four people a day," Balko said Tuesday as she prepared for her first appointment of the day. "I saw three people yesterday and between them, they saved a total of $1,200 because they reviewed their coverage. We encourage everyone to review each year.
Denny Magadanz of Harvey speaks with Lisa Balko, social work coordinator at the Marquette Senior Center, about the Medicare Part D insurance coverage he and his wife, Casey, currently have. Magadanz agreed to have his photo taken to encourage other seniors from Harvey to go to the Marquette Senior Center for simliar reviews. The center is taking appointments for the free service. Call 228-0456. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
"It's always an advantage to have your plan reviewed every year."
And now is the best time for seniors to do just that. The enrollment period for prescription coverage for this year started this past Saturday and continues until Dec. 7, which is an earlier deadline than previous years.
"The open enrollment dates are earlier this year. It used to be they had until Dec. 31," said Sherry Whitman, Upper Peninsula coordinator for the Michigan Medicare-Medicaid Assistance Program. "The change was made because at the end of the year, you run into the holidays and that's a hard time for folks to get the help they needed.
"Also, it's earlier so that seniors will have their prescription cards ready to go the first of the year," Whitman said. "All the paperwork will be done on time with the earlier deadline."
The Michigan Medicare-Medicaid Assistance Program, according to its website, is a free counseling service for Medicare/Medicaid beneficiaries and their caregivers that provides education and counseling assistance to Michigan's Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries and their families or representatives.
It is supported by a grant from the Michigan Office of Services to the Aging through funding received from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Medicare agency and a grant from the Administration on Aging, and is not affiliated with the insurance industry.
Nationally, this program is called the State Health Assistance Program.
While local senior center social workers can help seniors with questions, some centers also use MMAP trained counselors to help those with questions about changes in Medicare or who are first-time enrollees.
Medicare/Medicaid rules change frequently, so seniors and others eligible for those programs should take a look at their plans annually.
"We encourage all those on Medicare to review their plans yearly," Whitman said. "Plans change. Prices change. The types and brands of medicines covered change. The payment structure can change.
"The seniors could find they will save money if they review their plans," she said. "There are 34 different plans this year, which is actually down from last year. There is so much to think about."
Whitman said while most seniors are already familiar with Medicare, it's still a good idea to discuss their plans.
"Sometimes they have one plan, but don't realize how different their coverage could be," she said. "If they look at the total picture, they can find out how much they can save. Sometimes, it's a substantial amount.
"Say the senior says she wants no deductible. What we might find, though, looking at the big picture is that a small deductible will save her money in the long run.
"We really need to sit down and do the math to say how it would work for an individual."
People who should be looking at their plans really include anyone who's covered by Medicare, be they age 55 and older or disabled.
"Especially folks who don't have other insurance or who don't have creditable insurance," Whitman said. "We encourage them to call us to find out more."
MMAP has 44 counselors available in 13 of the U.P.'s 15 counties.
"For example, we have counselors who work out of Marquette and go to local senior centers and Peter White Library to offer assistance," Whitman said. Those interested can check with their local senior center to see when this assistance is available.
"We do a lot of counseling over the phone but sometimes it's nice to sit down with someone and review things face to face," she said.
"The biggest message we're trying to get out is that there are so many choices," Whitman said. "Medicare is more complicated than ever. MMAP is here to help and our services are free.
"Most often, we can save a senior some money," she said. "Chances are, we can help."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.