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Confusion about exchanges, Medicare



Published: Fri, September 13, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

Associated Press

MIAMI

Dear seniors, your Medicare benefits aren’t changing under the Affordable Care Act. That’s the message federal health officials are trying to get out to some older consumers confused by overlapping enrollment periods for Medicare and so-called “Obamacare.”

Medicare beneficiaries don’t have to do anything differently and will continue to go to Medicare.gov to sign up for plans. But advocates say many have been confused by a massive media blitz directing consumers to new online insurance exchanges set up as part of the federal health law. Many of the same insurance companies are offering coverage for Medicare and the exchanges.

Medicare open enrollment starts Oct. 15 and closes Dec. 7, while enrollment for the new state exchanges for people 65 and under launches Oct. 1 and runs through March.

“Most seniors are not at all informed. Most seniors worry they’re going to lose their health coverage because of the law,” said Dr. Chris Lillis, a primary-care physician in Fredericksburg, Va. “I try to speak truth from the exam room, but I think sometimes fear dominates.”

Next month, roughly 50 million Medicare beneficiaries will get a handbook in the mail with a prominent Q&A that stresses Medicare benefits aren’t changing. Federal health officials also have updated their training for Medicare counselors and are prepping their Medicare call center and website.

“We want to reassure Medicare beneficiaries that they are already covered, their benefits aren’t changing, and the marketplace doesn’t require them to do anything different,” said Julie Bataille, spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

But she said call centers for the state exchanges already are fielding questions from Medicare recipients and rerouting them to the Medicare line.

Jodi Reid, executive director of the California Alliance for Retired Americans, worries there hasn’t been enough outreach to seniors and that advocacy groups are spending the bulk of their advertising funds targeting those impacted by the exchange. Her organization, which represents nearly 1 million seniors in California, is putting together a one-page fact sheet to help dispel myths.

AARP officials said they anticipate a spike in calls after the October launch date for the new state exchanges. To help clarify everything for seniors, the organization is having various events around the country, such as a senior day next month at the state fair in Columbia, S.C. Next month, the group also is hosting 21 telephone town halls, which will include hundreds of thousands of phone calls to seniors.


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