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Archive for October, 2011

Medicare Open Enrollment – Time to Figure It Out

This column first appeared
in the Syracuse Post Standard October 25, 2011

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If you’ve watched TV, read the newspaper, or logged on to any health-related website recently, then you may already know that it’s Medicare Open Enrollment time.

Open Enrollment means you have the opportunity to make choices that affect both your access to the healthcare you need, and the cost of that care, by choosing a payer plan that fits your needs.

Too many Medicare recipients simply default to whatever plan they used the year before, perhaps because they didn’t understand how to assess which plan would work best for them.

But it doesn’t have to be so difficult. There are some excellent resources available. So why not take the time this year to figure out which plan fits you the best?

If you are a do-it-yourselfer, begin with the Medicare Find-A-Plan website. It will walk you through your options, including pricing for the drugs you take, then will reveal your options and their costs. You can compare Original Medicare against many Medicare Advantage plans.  From customer service to co-pays and health ratings, you can weigh cost and coverage against quality to make your choice.

Another way to do your research is to attend plan presentation programs offered by the many insurers that offer Medicare Advantage Plans. They can be very informative, but remember that the speakers are salespeople. Their paychecks depend on enlisting new customers. Don’t be swayed by coffee, cookies and promises! Ask good questions and compare many plans before you sign a contract.

For those who need an additional helping hand, personal, tailored, free assistance is offered to help you sort out the options.  Called SHIP programs (State Health Insurance Counseling and Assistance Programs), they are staffed by volunteers who walk you through your decision making.

If Medicare Open Enrollment seems a bit early this year, it is.  The process was started earlier so it could end earlier, too – December 7th.  Ending the process early means you’ll be sure to get your Medicare ID card in time for early January appointments.

With so many ways to find help, you owe it to yourself to spend some time this Fall to review your Medicare options for 2012 and make needed adjustments.  It’s “only” your health and money, after all.

……………… ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ON THIS TOPIC ………………

Medicare 101 – The Basics

Open Enrollment (Fall 2011) for Medicare 2012

What’s the Difference Between
Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage Plans
?

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A Dose of Reality – Today’s Doctor Appointment

Please note that this column first appeared in the Syracuse Post Standard
October 11, 2011

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In the “old” days, we could phone for a primary care doctor’s appointment in the morning, be seen right away, spend enough time with the doctor, leave with a treatment plan, and usually feel better within a day or two.

But no longer! Today it’s difficult to get an appointment, even within a few days. We sit in waiting rooms far longer than we expect. Then when we finally see the doctor, we often feel like we’re being rushed out the door.

We patients tend to blame our doctors and the way they run their practices. Why should we have to wait so long? Why won’t they spend more time with us?  What’s the big hurry?

The truth is, your doctor doesn’t like today’s limited time system either.  He would love nothing more than to be able to make immediate appointments, see you the moment you arrive in his office, and spend plenty of time with you, too.  But the insurance reimbursement system doesn’t make that possible.

Last week I had the opportunity to work with personnel at North and Northeast Medical Centers.  I was asked to help them help us patients manage this time-constrained reality we are all stuck with to improve patient satisfaction. I suggested some steps they can take to help their patients get the most from their appointments.

But the patient-provider relationship is two sided. We patients need to take our responsibilities in that relationship more seriously, too.

We can do so by preparing ahead of our appointments:

First – Write down anything that is new since your last appointment. New symptoms, new aches or pains, new supplements you’re talking, drugs another doctor has prescribed, or new triggers you’ve discovered that create problems for you. Record them along with the dates they started.

Second – Take a list of every drug and supplement you take, including brand names and dosages.  Note any that will need renewal within the next 90 days.  Or, instead of listing them, throw the containers into a bag and take them with you.

Third – Write down your questions. Prioritize them since you’ll only have time to ask two or three.  If you have more than one medical problem, and therefore extra questions, then make an additional appointment.

Being a prepared patient will make every interface with your doctor more effective and efficient. You’ll be more likely to get what you need – a collaboration that’s beneficial to you and your doctor.

……………… ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ON THIS TOPIC ………………

 Effective Patient-Doctor Communications

Why Do I Wait So Long for my Doctor Appointment?

Are You Prepared for Your Doctor Appointment?

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Want More Patient Empowerment?
Find Hundreds of Articles at:

Every Patient’s Advocate

About.com Patient Empowerment

…and…
sign up for 2x per month newsletters of
Patient Empowerment Tips