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Medicare, easy for some, not for others

Though some say enrolling for Medicare is easy, others may find it overwhelming and insurance officials will be in Dickinson Monday to help those on the overwhelmed side.

The event is designed to help seniors on Medicare Part D find the best, among 46 different prescription plans, said Adam Hamm, North Dakota Insurance commissioner.

Each year during a six-week window, those eligible can change their plan. The 2009 open enrollment period for the Medicare prescription drug program ends Dec. 31, Hamm said.

The event is one of 10 stops in North Dakota cities.

Shirley Arneson, Belfield Senior Citizen Club president, said enrolling is "relatively easy" but added Medicare questions and concerns often come up within the club.

"People need to be informed and especially the older generation," she said.

The event is designed for just that -- to inform.

Volunteers from the North Dakota State Health Insurance Program and from Community Action in Dickinson will be available to help participants determine which Medicare drug plan would best meet their needs. Other items that will be looked at involve how the cost would compare to their current spending.

Medicare has been relatively easy to understand, said 83-year-old Norbert Amann of Richardton.

"I've had pretty good luck with Medicare," Amann said. "I haven't really had any trouble."

Hamm said people are becoming more learned about Medicare.

Medicare recipients are asked to bring the paperwork of the plan they are in, a list of their prescription drugs and the dosages, as well as their Medicare card, Hamm said.

Thirteen or 14 counselors will be there to meet with seniors one-on-one and walk them through plans and "the pluses and minuses of that plan compared to the 46 available for the upcoming year," Hamm said. "What CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicare Services) has told us and all the states, is that thousands of medications are going to be discontinued from formularies in 2010." Formularies are lists of medications that each particular plan covers, he added.

"I think it is overwhelming for them," said Michelle Orton, client services director with Community Action in Dickinson said. "Since the enrollment period began on Nov. 15 we've helped at least 10 individuals at our agency.

"They receive these letters and they just don't understand and they don't have enough help maybe at home, or even family members. It's hard for them to understand the whole process."

She said about 200 people were at last year's event.

The event is Monday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Dickinson State University's Student Center ballrooms.

For more information, call SHIC at 888-575-6611.

Orton said those that cannot make it can get help through Community Action by calling 701-227-0131.