Posted on 08 November 2012
By Mark Miller
One problem facing seniors hit by Hurricane Sandy was moved out of the way today. The federal government extended the deadline for enrolling in Medicare plans for 2013.
Beneficiaries hit by the storm can still enroll after the midnight Dec. 7 deadline if they call Medicare’s 24-hour information line,1- 800-Medicare. My column at Reuters Money last week explained the problems some Sandy victims are having getting their Social Security checks.
Seniors affected by the storm also faced another benefit problem: meeting the deadline for enrolling in Medicare Advantage and prescription drug plans for 2013. The fall enrollment period is underway and ends on December 7th. Seniors who have been cut off from phone, internet or electric power will have difficulty meeting that deadline. “Even if the power and phone service comes back soon, many of these seniors will have more pressing problems to deal with than picking an insurance plan,” says Doug Goggin-Callahan, director of education for the Medicare Rights Center (MRC), a non-profit advocacy group that assists consumers with Medicare issues.
It’s not mandatory for seniors to re-shop their coverage during the annual enrollment period, although experts recommend it to make sure you get the best-fit coverage for the year ahead.
MRC had asked Medicare to consider an extension of enrollment deadlines or a special enrollment period for all seniors affected by the storm.
Here’s a statement on the extension from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services:
“We are committed to giving people with Medicare the information and the time they need to make important decisions about their coverage. We are providing additional flexibility around the open enrollment period for seniors and people with disabilities affected by Hurricane Sandy.”
– By law, the open enrollment period ends on December 7 – this special election period will provide additional flexibility to those who need it;
– Beneficiaries looking for more flexibility to make their selections should call 1-800-MEDICARE;
– All beneficiaries are eligible- for example, someone on the West Coast would be eligible who has a family member who usually helps them with the selection process, who has been affected by the storm;
– Medicare Advantage plans cannot market past the December 7th deadline.