January 19, 2018

Seniors, it’s time to sign up for Medicare

By Robert Blancato

Special to the Observer

Today, 10,000 Americans turned 65, thus becoming eligible for Medicare.

Starting on Oct. 15, these seniors — along with disabled Americans — could participate in Medicare’s “open enrollment period,” during which they can select the Medicare plan that best fits their unique needs.

During open enrollment, seniors shop around the Medicare marketplace, comparing the features of different plans and deciding whether to switch policies. Seniors also can decide to buy a prescription drug plan through Medicare Part D. These plans provide seniors with affordable access to prescription drugs, keeping them and their wallets healthy.

Beneficiaries enrolled in Part D are consistently happy with their coverage. In fact, nearly nine in 10 beneficiaries reported satisfaction in a recent survey.  

It’s no wonder — Part D provides seemingly limitless options, so everyone can find a plan that best fits his or her financial and medical needs. In 2016, seniors could choose from 886 prescription drug plans nationwide.  

These plans cover medicines that seniors need, from cholesterol medications to antidepressants and cancer treatments.  

The coverage is surprisingly affordable. Monthly premiums for Part D have been stable for years — around $34. That’s about half of the $60 originally forecasted. The Congressional Budget Office recently reported that Part D as a whole cost 45 percent less than the initial projections for 2004-2013.  

Such savings are a result of Part D’s reliance on competition. The need to attract seniors forces plan providers to cover lots of medicines and keep premiums reasonable.

Despite some political rhetoric being tossed around about changes to Part D, this should instead be the time for a bipartisan reaffirmation of the value of Part D. Part D is about choice and access to important drugs. The competition in place now with the program allows older adults to benefit from choice and access along with steady premiums—and it allows the industry to make the necessary investments in research and development to bring new drugs to market.

So, let’s keep having millions of seniors sign up for quality, affordable drug coverage this fall with the confidence that the Part D program they are so strongly supportive of will continue onward.

Robert Blancato is the executive director of the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs.

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