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Taking advantage of health care reform

Created date

February 22nd, 2011

It will take some time for the federal government to work out all of the details and implementation of the health care reform bill. In the meantime, there are some benefits that you can begin taking advantage of this year that will not only help you stay healthy but may also put some cash back in your pocket. Regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum, health care reform definitely provides retirees with resources to take control of their health care, says Brian Bohlig, chief marketing officer of Extend Health, a private Medicare exchange based in Utah.

Prescription drugs for less

For starters, Bohlig says, the infamous Medicare Part D donut hole will begin closing in 2011. Medicare beneficiaries will now receive a 50% discount on brand name drugs, and generic drugs will be discounted at 7%. If you take several prescription drugs, and were previously paying full price once you entered the so-called donut hole, this legislative change could translate to serious savings for you.

New wellness benefits

George Jacob, a retired Medicare executive who currently volunteers as a counselor to Medicare beneficiaries in Georgia, says the most important piece of health care reform legislation that goes into effect in 2011 is the free Annual Wellness Exam. If you re on Medicare, you are now entitled to a physical exam that includes dozens of screenings and focuses on prevention. In the past, it was a hodgepodge some of these services were subject to a co-pay or deductible. Now Medicare will pay 100% of these preventive services. ' George Jacob, ' Medicare counselor The free exam assesses your personal risk based on elements of your lifestyle like exercise and smoking, as well as on genetic factors like your family history. Your free annual wellness exam will include screenings for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, for example, as well as important tests like pap smears, mammograms, colonoscopies and bone mass measurements. It even includes flu and pneumonia vaccine shots. In the past, it was a hodgepodge some of these services were subject to a co-pay or deductible, Jacob says. Now Medicare will pay 100% of these preventive services. Jacob advises Medicare beneficiaries to schedule appointments as soon as possible to take maximum advantage of the new wellness benefits. The sooner they get it, the sooner they can get it in subsequent years, Jacob says. Plus, my experience is that it often takes a good deal of time to schedule a physical, so call now for your first date in 2011.

High-income families could pay more

If your 2009 income exceeded $85,000, or $175,000 for couples, you may be subject to additional surcharges on your Medicare Parts B and D premiums. Jacob says the Part B surcharges range from $46.10 to $253.70 per person per month, and the Part D surcharges range from $12.00 to $69.10 per person per month. So it s quite possible that you and your spouse would end up paying a hefty amount extra each month on your premiums, Jacob says. But, Jacob adds, if your income has decreased significantly since 2009 because you retired, were laid off, your pension was reduced, or other circumstances beyond your control, you may be able to seek relief from the surcharges. meghan.streit@erickson.com

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