Times Bulletin Staff Report

VAN WERT - Open enrollment for Medicare Part D, the prescription drug plan for seniors and those with disabilities, wraps up on Dec. 7, and a number of local locations are available with information and assistance. Open enrollment season is the only time to switch plans which is usually done if someone is unhappy or in most cases if someone wants to save money and find a cheaper plan.

Shellie Rhodes, executive assistant at the Van Wert Council on Aging (COA) said that agency is available to help.

"We are here to assist people during this time if they are wanting to sign up for medicare or change plans," she advised. "Nursing homes and the Van Wert Manor are also places to find information. Those looking for help can make an appointment with the COA. Staff are available and will help people go to medicare.gov to the plan finder and will generally find 10-15 suitable plans from the high to low end of the price range. Staff can then help people sign-up for a plan or can instruct them on how to do this themselves."

There are other resources available as well. The Medicare Rx Access Network of Ohio includes more than 250 organizations and agencies that assist seniors and the disabled across Ohio. These health advocates also assist with information and enrollment guidance for the Medicare Part D prescription drug program. The network strongly encourages families to take time to study the plans, including reviewing any current plan's annual notice of change which details any changes to drug coverage, pharmacies added or removed from the network, and any changes to premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.

Lisa Tharp, legislative director for the Ohio State Grange noted that for more than 1.8 million people in Ohio, Medicare Part D has proved to be a huge success.

"For beneficiaries, it offers a number of options for affordable coverage plans," Tharp explained. "In survey after survey, beneficiaries are overwhelmingly happy with the program. In fact, 88 percent of enrollees say they are satisfied and 95 percent say their coverage works well. Part D also is a success for taxpayers. This federal government program is working very well, exceeding expectations, costing much less than what was projected, and helping people access needed medicines."

Started in 2003, Medicare Part D has evolved to save money in other areas of health care. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) last year said that improved access and adherence to medicines through Part D saves Medicare about $1,200 per year in hospital, nursing home and other costs for each senior who previously lacked comprehensive drug coverage. This translates into about $12 billion per year in savings across Medicare.

Part D's costs for seniors have improved due to a 50 percent discount on brand-name medicines and biologics for those in coverage gap. By 2020, the coverage gap will be closed. A report released from Avalere Health does show potential premium increases for some Medicare Part D plans, but the analysis also showed there was also an increase in the number of plans available with premiums at or below $20.

For many seniors, this is a great time to look into the best plan.

"We are nearing the end up open enrollment season, but it is not too late," Rhodes reminded.