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Medicare Help: Answers Are Available

By Julie Davis

While Medicare might seem like a maze of information, recent efforts have made navigating the system easier on both beneficiaries and caregivers. Even though getting answers might be labor-intensive, there are many categories of helpful information available online as well as by phone.
 

NEW FOR 2010

The comprehensive official 2010 government booklet, Medicare & You, from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) can accessed online at http://www.medicare.gov/Publications/Pubs/pdf/10050.pdf and includes new information on topics like:

     
  • Mental Health: Lower costs for outpatient treatment
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  • Medigap (Medicare Supplement Insurance): Policies and plan changes
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  • Caregiver Information: If you help someone with Medicare‑related decisions, there are two new resources to help you get the information you need (see below for more)
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  • Medicare Health and Prescription Drug Plans: How to find plans in your area
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  • What You Pay for Medicare Part A and Part B
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  • New Ways to Manage Your Health Information: Tools to help reduce paperwork and improve your quality of care

 

ACCESS HELP: START HERE

Medicare has free information sources to help you with your Medicare and related questions. Here is how to get information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

     
  • By phone: Call 1‑800‑MEDICARE (1‑800‑633‑4227); TTY users should call 1‑877‑486‑2048. Speak clearly and have your Medicare card in front of you. You’ll be asked for your Medicare number to reduce the amount of time it takes to speak to an agent. You can either say your Medicare number or enter the numbers using your telephone keypad. Say “AGENT” at any time to talk to a customer service representative. Online you will find a chart of other words that you can speak to quickly access the help you need. If you need help in a language other than English or Spanish, let the customer service representative know the language.
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  • Online: go to www.medicare.gov for general information or to www.MyMedicare.gov for your personal Medicare information.
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  • If you have a question or complaint about the quality of a Medicare‑covered service, call your local Quality Improvement Organization; if you don’t know that number, call 1‑800‑MEDICARE to get it or go http://www.medicare.gov.

 

MEDICARE ONLINE: NEVER A WAIT

Here’s what you can do with Medicare online.

Get general information about Medicare at www.medicare.gov:

     
  • Get detailed information about the Medicare health and prescription drug plans in your area, including what they cost and what services they provide.
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  • Find doctors or other health care providers and suppliers who participate in Medicare.
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  • See what Medicare covers, including preventive services.
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  • Get Medicare appeals information and forms.
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  • Get information about the quality of care provided by plans, nursing homes, hospitals, home health agencies and dialysis facilities.
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  • Look up helpful websites and telephone numbers.
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  • View Medicare publications.

Note: If you don’t have a computer, your local library or senior center may be able to help you look up this information. You can also call your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP).

One of the most important online tools allows you to compare plans and providers. You can’t always plan ahead when you need health care, but try to make time to compare before you have a serious health issue. Medicare collects information about the quality of care and services given by most Medicare plans and other health care providers and information about the experiences of people with the care and services they get.  Now you can compare the quality of care and services given by health and prescription drug plans or health care providers nationwide by visiting http://www.medicare.gov (or by calling your State Health Insurance Assistance Program or SHIP).

When you, a family member, friend or SHIP counselor visit Medicare’s website, you can select any of the following choices:

     
  • Compare Health Plans and Medigap Policies
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  • Compare Medicare Prescription Drug Plans
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  • Compare Dialysis Facilities
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  • Compare Home Health Agencies
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  • Compare Hospitals
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  • Compare Nursing Homes


You can read, print or download copies of booklets, brochures and factsheets on a variety of topics listed or just to see what’s available, select “Find a Medicare Publication” at www.medicare.gov. You can search by keyword, like “rights” or “mental health,” for instance, or select “View All Medicare Publications.” If the publication you want has a check box after “Order Publication,” you can have a printed copy mailed to you. You can also call 1‑800‑MEDICARE and say “Publications” to find out if a printed copy can be mailed to you.

     
  • Among the free booklets on Medicare topics that you can search for are:
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  • Ambulance coverage
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  • Choosing a nursing home
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  • Comparing plans and health care providers
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  • Coverage outside the US
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  • Fighting fraud
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  • Home health care
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  • Hospice care
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  • Hospital quality
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  • Kidney dialysis and transplant services
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  • Medicare Advantage Plan options
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  • Medicare prescription drug coverage, including Extra Help
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  • Mental health care
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  • Preventive services
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  • Rights and protections
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  • Skilled nursing facility care


Manage Personal Medicare Information at www.MyMedicare.gov, Medicare’s secure online service for accessing your records.

Here’s a sampling of what you can do:

     
  • Complete your Initial Enrollment Questionnaire so your bills get paid correctly.
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  • Track your health care claims.
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  • Check your Part B deductible status.
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  • View your eligibility information.
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  • Track the preventive services you can get.
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  • Find a Medicare health or prescription drug plan.
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  • Keep your Medicare information in one convenient place.
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  • Sign up to get your “Medicare & You” handbook electronically.

 

HELP FOR CAREGIVERS

Medicare has two new resources to help you get the information you need:

     
  • Visit “Ask Medicare” at www.medicare.gov/caregivers to help your loved one choose a drug plan, compare nursing homes, get help with billing, and even how to get help with caregiving costs.
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  • Sign up for the free bi‑monthly “Ask Medicare” electronic newsletter when you go to the site. The e‑Newsletter has the latest information including important dates, Medicare changes and resources in your community.

Future articles will look at other ideas for navigating Medicare including a look at Medicare Part C.