Update on Medicare changes

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FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. – Local groups organized to help senior citizens navigate health insurance are overwhelmed with appointments and phone calls right now.

The Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) Office in Forsyth County is getting 50 to 100 phone calls a day, estimated Sam Matthews.

Matthews is the director of the Shepherd's Center in Winston-Salem and the Medicare SHIIP coordinator for the county.

He said they were already busy with appointments simply because the number of people qualifying for Medicare is growing rapidly.

Plus, Blue Cross Blue Shield recently terminated two popular HMO plans in eleven North Carolina counties.

Matthews said that means 14,000 seniors in Forsyth County alone need to pick a new plan. Plans overall are more expensive this year. The changes also include the elimination of the Silver Sneakers program for many seniors.

"It's really presented a significant challenge for us," Matthews explained. "It all just created a huge tsunami, if you will, of requests. We only have a certain number of resources we can handle it with," he said.

Matthews says they have eight trained volunteers helping handle those requests, and are turning most BCBS of NC customers who need help to the Raleigh office.

They can call 1-855-408-1212.

Blue Cross Blue Shield is still offering Medicare coverage, but it will cost more for seniors used to paying zero or $18 premiums. The price of plans that include drug coverage ranges from $57.40 to $142.00.

In counties where the BCBS Standard and Enhanced HMO plans are still offered, the cost went from zero to $38.40 and from $18.90 to $64.40, respectively.

United Healthcare, Humana Insurance Company and Cigna-Healthsrping are also offering HMO and PPO Medicare Advantage plans.

To see them all, check out medicare.gov.

Matthews points out, Cigna-Healthspring will not be accepted by Wake Forest Baptist or Baptist Hospital next year.

A private insurance agent or local SHIIP office can help seniors choose the best coverage for their needs.

Blue Cross Blue Shield spokesperson Lew Borman said, "Our benefit plan offerings for the upcoming year are designed to provide choices that will allow members to easily make a cost benefit comparison, choose the plan that’s best for them, and allow us to offer options at a competitive rate."

He added that customers impacted have until Feb. 28 to choose a plan, but they should act before Dec. 31 to have coverage in place Jan. 1.