These assistance seminars for Medicare Part D enrollment are sponsored by Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders (SHINE):
Collier County events:
■Oct. 24, Wednesday, 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 777 Mooring Line Drive, Naples.
■Oct. 26, Friday, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Roberts Center, 905 Roberts Ave., Immokalee.
■Nov. 8, Thursday, 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Golden Gate Community Center, 4701 Golden Gate Parkway, Naples.
■Nov. 13, Tuesday, 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m., East Naples Community Center, 3500 Thomasson Drive, Naples.
■Nov. 14, Wednesday, 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Marco Lutheran Church, 525 North Collier Blvd., Marco Island.
Lee County events
■Nov. 5, Monday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Zion Lutheran Church, 7401 Winkler Road, Fort Myers.
■Nov. 6, Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Center for Independent Living, 7011 Cypress Terrace, Suite 103, Fort Myers.
■Nov. 7, Wednesday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Peace Lutheran Church, 15840 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers.
__ For additional information, call the SeniorChoices of Southwest Florida at the elder help line at 866-413-5337
NAPLES — Fall has arrived and that means senior citizens must think about their health and the medications they take.
Open enrollment for Medicare Part D begins Oct. 15 and ends Dec. 7 for seniors to select or change their prescription drug plan for coverage that takes effect Jan. 1, 2013.
Even if seniors are happy with their current drug plan, AARP and the Florida Department of Elder Affairs recommends they review their current plan against next year's offerings. That's because out-of-pocket expenses and covered medications may be different. In addition, some plans may no longer be available.
Nationwide, 31.5 million seniors are enrolled in Medicare Part D plans, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Overall Medicare enrollment is nearly 50 million seniors nationwide, with 3.4 million beneficiaries living in Florida.
A recent national survey shows nine out of 10 seniors are happy with their drug plans, and overall satisfaction has increased since the subsidized prescription drug program began in 2006. That's based on 2,363 seniors who took part in a telephone survey in early September by the consumer-focused Medicare Today and the national research group, KRC Research.
Naples resident Sandy and Al Maggiacomo reflect the sentiment of the survey. She said they used to purchase two heart medications from Canadian programs to save money but since her husband, now 83, enrolled in a Part D plan in 2006, they spend less and said good-bye to the Canadian option.
"I think it is absolutely fabulous," she said. "And now we don't have to go out of the country."
During open enrollment every fall, she turns to assistance offered by Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders (SHINE) through the state elder affairs department.
A volunteer will review a senior's medications and examine the different plans to find a good fit. Several SHINE help sessions are scheduled in Lee and Collier counties in the coming weeks.
"They usually give you about three alternatives," Maggiacomo said, adding that she couldn't do the analysis on her own. "I think it would be beyond comprehension."
In years past, SHINE volunteers statewide have helped 33,000 seniors select and sign up for drug plans, said Stephanie Hoffman, a program liaison in Fort Myers. "SHINE counselors help clients go through a benefits checkup."
More than 250 seniors in Collier and Lee will be automatically enrolled in new plans if they don't make the decision themselves by Dec. 7, according to elder affairs spokeswoman Andrea Gary. That's because their current plans won't be offered in 2013.
For next year, Florida seniors will have 35 stand-alone Part D plans to choose from, two more options than this year. In addition, a number of Medicare Advantage managed-care plans with drug coverage is available.
With stand-alone drug plans, the maximum allowable deductible next year will increase by $5 to $325. The initial coverage limit will increase by $40 to $2,970.
That means after total spending by a senior and his or her plan reaches $2,970, the coverage gap known as the "doughnut hole" begins. At that point, the senior will pay 100 percent for medications and will exit the coverage gap when the amount spent reaches $4,750.
In 2010, about 3.8 million seniors nationwide who reached the doughnut hole received a $250 rebate from the federal government after passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Another measure began in 2011 to reduce what they pay for generics during the coverage gap. Next year they will pay less for brand-name drugs when they are in the doughnut hole.
For next year, the lowest monthly premium available in Florida in a stand-alone plan will be $15 through United Healthcare and its AARP MedicareRx Saver Plus plan, which has the $325 deductible.
The next lowest premium is $18.50 through Humana Walmart-Preferred Rx with the same deductible. Both plans don't offer coverage during the doughnut hole.
The costliest plan with a zero deductible and coverage of all generics in the doughnut hole is priced at $127 a month with BlueMedicare Rx.
A favorite with Collier County seniors is the Humana Walmart plan with the $15 a month premium, said Hallie Devlin, the SHINE coordinator in Collier.
"It's very popular with people who have few or no medications and for (low-income) people who qualify for federal assistance because they don't pay any premium," she said.
But that could change because United Healthcare's AARP MedicareRx Saver Plus will be available for the first time in Collier with the $15 premium.
"I don't know whether people will switch," she said. "People coming on new (to Part D) will probably be attracted to it."
Overall, Devlin said she doesn't see any drastic changes between what's available this year and what will be offered for next year.
"I'd say the plans are about the same for 2013 as 2012," she said. "The premiums do not appear to have changed significantly."