Aloha Care Monthly Check Up: Medicare plan changes

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Staying active is easy for seniors at Lanakila Senior Center in Kalihi. But they dread this time of year, when they have to decide whether to change their Medicare plan. And this year the deadline comes three weeks early, on December 7th - Pearl Harbor Day.

Roland Walls is a Medicare recipient and he also volunteers with Sage PLUS which helps seniors understand the system.

"Which plans do you have to pay money out of your pocket?," said Walls. "And it's not always clear."

Seniors are bombarded with information about Part A for hospitalization, Part-B for doctor visits and tests,Part-C for Medicare Advantage or managed care, and Part-D for prescriptions.

"People's health changes month to month, year to year, so it's important to look at the plan you've chosen and if you've had health changes, make sure the needs that you have, are incorporated into the plan that you have," said Aloha Care's Medical Director, Dr. Laura Tisza.

But for seniors understanding the complexities of the Medicare system can be quite challenging. If you hold off on signing up for the Part B or Part D plan, you might think your saving money. But in the long run, when you sign up when you really need it, you're going to pay a penalty for not doing it right away.

According to Sage PLUS officials, Medicare penalizes you 10% of your premium every year, you don't carry Part B. And you face a 1% penalty every month starting June of 2006, if you don't have Part D for prescriptions.

"So instead of paying maybe a $100 it might be a $120 dollars and it increases every month to the point where it gets ridiculous," said Walls who once cut back on his prescriptions because he couldn't afford them.

Understanding the Medicare information in English is hard enough, now imagine if English isn't your first language.

Kang Ming Tang won't be changing his plan this year, but knows how complicated it can be.

Through a translator he said, "So actually I did pay some penalties and my premium for the Part B is much higher that other seniors."

"To many different plans inside," said Richard Thi. "I don't know what plan is for me, right."

That's where Hawaii's Medicare Counseling Program, Sage PLUS, comes in.

"What we do is help people navigate thru that Medicare maze," said Pamela Cunningham, Sage PLUS' program Director.

"We help them look at what their options are," she added. "We'll never choose a plan for them, but we'll show them the differences so they can make an informed choice."

Sage PLUS will compare Medicare plans with you online, over the phone, at their office, or at a site away from your home. You can call them to set up an appointment, and to get your copy of Medicare & You.

To reach a certified Sage PLUS counselor:

Oahu - 586-7299
Neighbor Islands - 1-888-875-9229
TTY - 1-866-810-4379

Sage PLUS online:

State of Hawaii
Dept. of Health
Executive Office on Aging
250 S. Hotel Street, Suite 406
Honolulu, HI 96813-2831

Other LINKS & information:

Oahu Elderly Affairs Division - 768-7700
Medicare Contractors: 1-800-633-4227

(For Medicare Applications/ ID cards/ Help with Prescription Drugs)