The Wednesday deadline to enroll in Medicare health care and prescription drug plans is fast approaching, and health officials are urging Sacramento area seniors and other Medicare recipients to heed the date.
"Seniors and people with Medicare should act now, review their plan coverage and compare their current plan with other available options," said Donald M. Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, in a statement.
The Medicare open enrollment period began a month early this year, on Oct. 15, and ends three weeks earlier than previous years, on Dec. 7.
The 2010 health reform act mandated the earlier enrollment period to give Medicare recipients more time to weigh their plan options and insurers more time to complete paperwork and get membership cards and other information to beneficiaries.
But at least two recent surveys show that many seniors still are unaware of the Wednesday deadline.
The latest, from survey firm Opinion Research, showed that just one in five seniors 65 years of age and older with Medicare prescription drug plans were aware that the open enrollment period ends next week.
Margaret Reilly, program manager at the West Sacramento office of HICAP, the state's Health Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program, said the volume of calls her office continues to receive bears that out.
"I think there are still people out there who don't know" about the deadline, Reilly said.
Both the Citrus Heights Community Center, 6300 Fountain Square Drive in Citrus Heights, (916) 727-5400, and the Davis Senior Center, 646 A St., in Davis, (530) 757-5696, have added extra HICAP sessions to meet demand.
Appointments are required for the one-on-one counseling, Reilly said.
At Reilly's West Sacramento office, 3950 Industrial Blvd., Suite 500, on Wednesday "we will have all hands on deck to counsel, to advise, and to help enroll in a new plan if the client chooses."
Berwick said there is still time.
"Once you compare plans, if your current plan satisfies your needs for next year, you don't need to do anything. If other options are a better match for your needs, there is still time to change," Berwick said.
Indeed, many Sacramento-area recipients more than 180,000 of the 313,000 in the four-county Sacramento region receive traditional fee-for-service Medicare and do not need to do anything to keep the coverage.
Others recipients who are satisfied with their health and drug plans can also stand pat.
Reilly also said the roughly 12,000 Sacramento-area Wellpoint/Anthem Blue Cross members whose Freedom Blue plan was dropped have been granted some breathing room. They have until the end of the year to decide on a health plan to ensure coverage on Jan. 1.