Medicare open enrollment deadline Dec. 7

Anyone using Medicare insurance products will have until Dec. 7 to make changes to their coverage plans under the “open enrollment” period.Medicare is federal health insurance for people age 65 or older; people under 65 with certain disabilities; and people who have End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), or permanent kidney failure.According to the official U.S. government Medicare handbook issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, during open enrollment, people can make unrestricted changes to their Medicare health or prescription drug coverage for 2012. In January 2012, new coverage begins if people have joined a plan or switched their plan.Medicare has four major components. Part A is hospital insurance and helps cover inpatient care in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, hospice and home health care. Part B is medical insurance that helps to cover doctors’ and other healthcare providers’ services, outpatient care, durable medical equipment and home health care and some preventive services. Part C, also known as Medicare Advantage, offers health plan options run by Medicare-approved private insurance companies. The Medicare Advantage Plans are a way to get benefits and services covered under Plan A and Plan B. Some plans can include extra benefits at an additional cost. Part D, which began in 2006, is Medicare’s prescription drug coverage plan run by Medicare-approved private insurance companies. It helps cover the cost of prescription drugs and can help prevent increases in prescription costs. According to Consumer Reports, approximately 36 million Americans are covered by original Medicare, and 11 million are enrolled in private Medicare Advantage plans.“The Open Enrollment Period, which began on Oct. 15 and ends on December 7th has started earlier and will end earlier than normal this year. That’s why there’s been a lot of advertising,” said Jill Cyphert, APPRISE coordinator for Cameron, Elk and McKean counties.