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Medicare enrollment time could spawn plan confusion

We are fast approaching the fifth Medicare annual enrollment period (AEP) for Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage Plans. This year I am seeing far more changes than ever before.

This column will deal with Medicare Advantage Plans because this where many peninsula residents will see the most changes.

It is imperative that you read very carefully any letters or packages you receive from your insurance company. If you do not understand them, get assistance to make sure you are fully aware of your options.

You can contact Medicare directly at 800-633-4227. The local SHIBA people can be reached at 452-3221, and they hold free clinics at the Sequim Senior Activity Center from

10 a.m.-noon each Tuesday. Or call your friendly local insurance agent.

I find the www.Medicare.gov Web site to be extremely useful in helping decipher the jungle of information.

Many people do not bother to wade through all the fine print, but you should. If you do not, you may regret it for all of 2010.

These warnings are not meant to be scare tactics; here are some examples of what is changing:



THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE all across the peninsula will receive letters from their insurance companies telling them that their coverage will not be available in 2010.

These terminations include plans from Coventry Health Care, Secure Horizons and Aetna. These are just the ones I am aware of so far.

If your plan is being non-renewed, you have many options available to you on a guaranteed basis. Do not panic, but do not ignore it either. Learn what your options are.

One option is to return to original Medicare and purchase a supplemental policy. But if you have been satisfied with your Medicare Advantage plan, other similar plans will be available for 2010.



IN MY SEPTEMBER column I wrote that Group Health was considering re-entering Clallam County in 2011. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Forget 2011, it is 2010. Group Health is holding educational seminars in Sequim, Port Angeles and Port Townsend. They will serve the populous portions of the peninsula and will not offer coverage to the West End of Clallam or down the Hood Canal.

The plans appear to be very attractively priced and, I am sure, will be very popular to many people. The one big advantage of the Group Health Plan is that it is a PPO plan that comes with a list of providers who accept the plans terms and conditions.

The Web site lists 132 providers here in Clallam County; however, that number includes providers who are based elsewhere and are only in Sequim for a day or two each week.

Most of the competing Medicare Advantage Plans, other than Regence BlueShield, are of the PFFS variety where there is no list of providers and it can be hit or miss as to which provider or hospital you can go to.

The Group Health people were in my office last week and they are contracting with local agents to assist you with their plans, as well as to provide service to you throughout the year.



ANOTHER BIG CHANGE on the Medicare Advantage side is regarding Sterling Health Plans. Sterling was the very first company Medicare used on a trial basis for these plans way back in the mid-1990s when the plans were called Medicare+ Choice.

Until this year, they have allowed only captive agents or employees to represent their products. This year they have decided to expand their marketing clout by allowing independent agents to represent them.

We at Castell Insurance will offer their products as appropriate.

If you are still reading and numb with details, believe me you are not alone. I have an expanded version of this article on my Web site, www.CastellInsurance.com. If you are a glutton for punishment, please check it out there.

As always at this time of year, I urge people to take care and read all the material they receive from their insurance plans.



Phil Castell is an independent insurance agent in Sequim. He can be reached at 683-9284 or www.CastellInsurance.com.





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