Maybe you've already heard or seen the advertisements about Idaho's program that gives free advice about Medicare enrollment options.
If you haven't, this week might be your introduction to the Senior Health Insurance Benefits Advisers program. Friday is the deadline for most seniors to change their Medicare Advantage and prescription drug plans.
"We really feel that people should always do a benefits checkup every year," said Carol Barnard, a SHIBA Medicare consultant. "Not only is it possible that the drug plan [Medicare beneficiaries] were on will change its formulary, and a drug they did have covered will no longer be covered ... but there also might be a better plan out there."
Barnard just worked on a case for one Idaho Medicare member who spent $69 a month for a Medicare prescription drug plan, even though the member took just one generic drug on a regular basis. For the same coverage, Barnard found a plan that cost $15 a month.
"The premium is what people pay the most attention to," Barnard said. But cost is not black and white; for example, a low premium may come with a higher copay when visiting a doctor or buying a drug.
The SHIBA program this year launched a mini call center and a marketing campaign. Supervisor Phyllis Barker said SHIBA's volunteer advisers are getting about 700 calls per week just in the main office in Boise. That doesn't include three other regional SHIBA offices. There are 150 trained volunteers working as SHIBA counselors around the state.
SHIBA is federally and state-funded. Under a federal grant of about $380,000 that helps cover its costs, the SHIBA program has updated its educational materials, hired a marketing company and launched a marketing campaign.
Not all Idahoans on Medicare are held to the Dec. 7 deadline. Medicare Advantage members whose insurers cancelled their plans, for example, have until Dec. 31 to choose a new plan.
Call (800) 247-4422 to talk to a trained volunteer adviser. Or visit www.doi.idaho.gov/shiba/shibahealth.aspx for more information.
Audrey Dutton: 377-6448