ATTLEBORO — Council on Aging officials are urging seniors to schedule appointments now to get help signing up for Medicare health benefits, especially Part D, the drug plan.
Changes in procedures, including a new requirement to set up an online Medicare account, are expected to add time to appointments.
In addition, the number of Part D drug plans is overwhelming and will likely take time to sort through to find the least expensive option for each individual.
Open enrollment began Oct. 15 and ends Dec. 7, so time is short, COA director Madeleine McNielly said.
“We’re trying to encourage seniors not to wait until the last minute,” she said. “They can’t wait until Dec. 7 and expect to get help.”
Appointments that in the past have taken about 30 minute could now take up to two hours, McNielly said.
COA SHINE (Serving Health Information of Elders) counselor Melissa Taylor-Tucker said the aim is to begin guiding people through the computer technology and maze of health insurances as soon as possible so that the most people can be helped.
SHINE counselors are trained to provide impartial and unbiased information, counseling and assistance on Medicare and related health care coverages.
If seniors are not adept at using computers they should get a family member or friend to help them go online to mymedicare.gov and begin the process, Taylor-Tucker said.
She said the rollout of the new online program in August did not go smoothly, as people began having problems almost immediately.
“We don’t want to panic people, but we need to educate people and get their families involved,” Taylor-Tucker said.
Lisa Sarkis, SHINE’s regional director, said it’s important for seniors to go online and get their user name and password at mymedicare.gov. That will help save time when talking to a SHINE counselor, she said.
The COA is holding a Medicare update session at the Larson Senior Center at 10 a.m. Monday, Oct. 28.
Call 774-203-1906 to register.
To get an appointment with a SHINE counselor call 508-222-1399 or toll free at 1-800-243-4636.