Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Open enrollment season and Medicare changes

Open enrollment time for Medicare puts the spotlight on recent changes and effects on prescription drug benefits.

We’ve been hearing a lot about the politics of health care lately.  In the meantime, many employers are in open enrollment season, making for a confusing month when it comes to health insurance.  And for seniors on Medicare,  November brings the annual dilemma about prescription drugs.

Most people with private insurance are finding premiums are bumping up, requiring trade-offs between higher co-pays versus better coverage.  The federal health overhauls are starting to offer some protections, particularly if you have pre-existing medical conditions.  The federal law also has specific benefits for seniors, starting in January.

Medicare beneficiaries will be able to receive an annual wellness checkup, free of charge, and also will be able to receive preventative services free of charge,”  says Stephanie Magill, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Seattle Regional Office.  Currently, they pay a 20% co-pay for preventive visits. 

For now, though, Medicare has its own confusing choices.  Many seniors get their Medicare through private insurers, some of which have chosen to get out of the business, rather than comply with new mandates.  Plus, every year, the prescription drug plans change.

For advice, seniors can call 1-800-Medicare, or check out They can enter their personal list of drugs, the amounts they take, and see a comparison of the plans available to them.

The enrollment period runs through December. 

A lot of reasons are offered for higher insurance costs, but it’s mostly the same old culprits – people using more medical care, more expensive equipment, more long-term illnesses, etc.

If you think it’s a pain dealing with all these changes, consider the plight of a quarter-million low-income Washington residents, covered through the separate Medicaid program.  They’re losing all prescription drug coverage next year under the latest round of desperate budget cuts by Governor Chris Gregoire. 

Keith Seinfeld has been KPLU’s Health & Science Reporter since 2001, and prior to that covered the Environment beat. He’s been a staff reporter at The Seattle Times and The News Tribune in Tacoma and a freelance writer-producer. His work has been honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.