There are many things we review and update at this time of the year, and one of the most important things for seniors to research is Medicare plan changes and updates.

Open enrollment for 2021 coverage runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. This is the time that people currently on Medicare can make changes to their Medicare Advantage and prescription drug plans for the upcoming year to better meet their ever-changing needs. You are entitled to Medicare beginning the first day of your 65th birthday month. You can sign up as early as three months before your birthday month and three months after, but open enrollment for people with Medicare changes is only available once a year.

For all our adult working lives, we paid into Medicare, and it is wise to sign up for it unless you or your spouse are still working. Subject to certain conditions, you can delay your Medicare enrollment without penalty if you or your spouse are covered under an active employment group plan. Choosing the right options to supplement or replace Medicare is extremely confusing. As Grandpa always tells me when I ask about something on my computer or other technology, “It’s complicated.” GRRRRR!

The cost and options of plans available to you in Contra Costa County can be overwhelming to research. HICAP (Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program) is a nonprofit, no-cost volunteer organization endorsed by Medicare to provide education, individual counseling and advocacy on Medicare matters. They can provide you with pertinent information to help you decide what is the best plan or combination of plans you will need. They make it less confusing with the menu of options. You can weigh the information to help you make the right choice for your budget and current health issues.

Last year we had only three insurance companies that offered coverage in Contra Costa County: United Health Care, Kaiser and Humana. A new one, Imperial Health Plan, has been added for 2021. Each company offers competing menus, and HICAP breaks down the details that will give you the ammunition to make a decision. They do not recommend or endorse any of these products but give you the information in an easy and concise format.

HICAP provides this free and objective information on their website and also offers free consultation with just a phone call or a Zoom conversation. (Website: cchicap.org.) If you feel more comfortable with a personal conversation in lieu of the website, simply call either 1-800-510-2020 or 925-602-4163 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Don’t be concerned that a recording will come on. Just leave your name, phone number and the best time to reach you, and a counselor will call you back in a timely fashion. Volunteer counselors can help you understand your specific rights and health care options. They are not only knowledgeable, they are kind. The stress of all of these plan changes can be minimized with the right information. Make sure the options you choose are applicable to your needs, including your desired supplemental benefits. Comparison charts are on the website as well, and the entire site is designed professionally to make it simple to browse through. If you don’t have access to a computer, remember you can always make that call.

We are still in the midst of the COVID pandemic, and unfortunately as of now there is no vaccine or cure. We all have to remain diligent, wear our masks for ourselves and for others, wash our hands often, social distance, avoid large crowds and most of all stay calm. Not seeing loved ones, especially those grandchildren is hard for all of us but keep in touch by phone or Zoom or email daily. Check on others, especially those that live on their own. We will get through this with common sense, caring for others and staying home as much as possible.

Thanks to Leah McIntosh, the Outreach Volunteer Coordinator, and a delightful group of volunteers, one thing on our plates is made a little less overwhelming. Again, that website is Cchicap.org. Stay safe and well.

Marla Luckhardt is a Brentwood resident who works with several local senior care and advocacy groups. Reach her at marla2054@aol.com.

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