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CONSUMER ALERT: MEDICARE OPEN ENROLLMENT PERIOD NOW UNDERWAY

LITTLE ROCK - Medicare's open enrollment period is now underway, giving current or newly eligible Medicare beneficiaries the opportunity to sign up for benefits or make changes to existing coverage.

The open enrollment period began Oct. 15 and continues until Dec. 7. And, as senior citizens review or consider changing their Medicare benefit plans, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued this consumer alert today to help consumers as they navigate their Medicare options.

A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that nearly one in four American senior citizens were unaware of their annual opportunity to review or change Medicare coverage. More than a third of seniors surveyed said they review or compare coverage options only once every few years, rarely, or never.

"Medicare beneficiaries have the option every year to review the coverage that's right for them, depending on their health-care needs," McDaniel said. "As with any insurance product, it's always good practice to shop around for the best plan."

In addition to typical Medicare coverage, beneficiaries must join a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (Medicare Part D), unless they have prescription coverage under another recognized plan. Beneficiaries may choose to enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan, which operates like an HMO or PPO and may also include a prescription drug benefit.

To select a plan, compare plans and coverage, or estimate costs, visit www.medicare.gov. Senior citizens are encouraged to make changes as soon as possible to allow coverage to begin uninterrupted on Jan. 1, 2013.

Beneficiaries may be able to join other types of Medicare health plans as well. For more information on how to select a plan, visit www.medicare.gov.

Medicare beneficiaries may also call a 24-hour hotline, (800) MEDICARE, with questions about coverage options. In Arkansas, the Senior Health Insurance Information Program, or SHIIP, is available to assist Medicare beneficiaries. Visit SHIIP on the Internet at insurance.arkansas.gov/seniors/divpage.htm or call (800) 224-6330.

McDaniel noted that his Consumer Protection Division often sees an uptick in Medicare-related scams during the open enrollment period. He urged beneficiaries and their families to use caution when sharing sensitive personal or financial information.

Scammers in the past have asked Medicare beneficiaries for information such as bank account numbers or Social Security numbers over the phone. Medicare rules prohibit these types of calls, though. No beneficiary should provide that type of information to someone who calls them, no matter whether the caller sounds official.

The Attorney General's Consumer Protection website, www.GotYourBackArkansas.org, offers tips and resources to help consumers avoid Medicare-related scams and other types of scams and fraud. Consumers may also download a free, electronic copy of the Medicare Protection Toolkit on the website.

For more information about Medicare and other consumer-related issues, call the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Hotline at (800) 482-8982 or visit www.GotYourBackArkansas.org.

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