For Immediate Release: November 12, 2010

Medicare Annual Election Period Begins Nov. 15

Recipients can enroll in a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan or Medicare Advantage plan or change their current coverage.

RALEIGH -- Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin wants to remind the state's 1.5 million Medicare recipients that now is the time to review their Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage and/or their Medicare Advantage plan and that SHIIP staff is ready to provide assistance during the annual enrollment period, Nov. 15 - Dec. 31.

"For the next six weeks, Medicare recipients will be able to review their current prescription drug coverage and choose which plan they want for 2011," said Commissioner Wayne Goodwin. "They will also be able to enroll in or make changes to their Medicare Advantage plans during this time. We encourage everyone with a Medicare Part D plan or a Medicare Advantage plan to call SHIIP for help reviewing your options for 2011." SHIIP stands for the Seniors' Health Insurance Information Program and is a division of the N.C. Department of Insurance.

Previously, Medicare Advantage recipients could make changes to their Medicare Advantage plans during both the Part D annual enrollment period and an additional Medicare Advantage open enrollment period, Jan. 1 – March 31; however, the federal Affordable Care Act eliminated the Medicare Advantage open enrollment period (Jan.1 - March 31). This means that anyone with a Medicare Advantage plan can only make changes to their coverage during the combined Part D and Medicare Advantage annual election period, Nov. 15 – Dec. 31.

Compared to other states, North Carolina has the third most Medicare recipients whose current Part D or Medicare Advantage plan will not be offered in 2011, and therefore, will require action during the annual election period to avoid losing coverage. "More than 80,000 Medicare recipients in North Carolina are in a plan - either Part D or Medicare Advantage - that won't be available in 2011, and these folks need to act now in order to make sure their coverage is in place by January 1. The easiest way to ensure you will continue to have coverage is to call SHIIP for assistance," said Commissioner Goodwin.

In 2011, North Carolina will have 33 Medicare Part D prescription drug plans (PDPs) available to Medicare beneficiaries, and 18 companies will administer the plans. Some existing plans also have changed their prescription formularies, monthly premiums and deductibles. [See attached chart for the most current Part D companies and PDPs.] In addition, North Carolina will have 97 Medicare Advantage plans available in 2011.

SHIIP also reminds Medicare recipients that financial assistance with Medicare Part D expenses may be available. "Last year, the federal government identified that more than 80,000 Medicare recipients in North Carolina were eligible for Medicare's Low-Income Subsidy — the Extra Help Program — but had not enrolled. Since then, my SHIIP staff and volunteers across the state have been working to identify these folks and help them apply. Call SHIIP today to see if you qualify for Extra Help," said Commissioner Goodwin. The Extra Help program reduces a recipient's Part D premium and copayments and eliminates the "donut hole" gap in coverage.

SHIIP is a division of the North Carolina Department of Insurance that offers free, objective information about Medicare, Medicare prescription drug coverage, Medicare Advantage, long-term care insurance and other health insurance information. SHIIP's trained volunteers provide one-on-one counseling in all 100 counties.

For questions about Medicare Advantage, Medicare Part D's annual election period, PDPs or other Medicare products, call SHIIP at 1-800-443-9354 or visit www.ncshiip.com.

--NCDOI--