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Ask the Expert: Where to turn for help with Medicare choices

I'll be retiring soon and enrolling in Medicare. Can you recommend agents who specialize in Medicare plans?

Medicare's website (medicare.gov) provides excellent interactive tools to help you determine which options best fit your needs. If you're computer-comfortable, the website tools may be all you need to choose wisely. If you also want expert personal assistance, you'll find it in the Health Insurance Information Counseling and Assistance Program, aka HIICAP.

HIICAP provides free, objective information about Medicare. Its counselors are trained to help retirees and soon-to-be-retirees compare their Medicare options and choose the best plan for their situation. To make an appointment to speak with a HICAAP counselor — on the phone or in person — call the Nassau County Family and Children's Association at 516-485-3425, or RSVP Suffolk at 631-979-9490.

But first, list all your doctors, call them and ask if they accept Medicare. Also make a list of all your prescription drugs by name, dosage and how often you take them. That information will help you (or the counselor) determine your best options.

There are two basic ways to get Medicare: Original Medicare or a Medicare Advantage Plan.

Original Medicare covers hospital care (Part A) and doctors' services (Part B). Original Medicare covers the services of any doctor who accepts Medicare. If you opt for Original Medicare, you must buy prescription drug coverage (Part D) in a separate policy.

Medicare Advantage Plans are sold by private insurers. They combine Parts A, B and D, and sometimes include services that Original Medicare doesn't cover, like dental care. But your choice of doctors and hospitals is more limited than with Original Medicare because Medicare Advantage Plan coverage is offered through HMOs and preferred provider networks.

The bottom line

HIICAP provides cost-free expert assistance to Medicare shoppers.

More information

medicare.gov

aging.ny.gov/HealthBenefits/

TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to Ask the Expert/Act 2, 6 Corporate Center Dr., Melville, NY 11747, or email act2@newsday.com. Include your name, address and phone numbers. Questions can be answered only in this column. Advice is offered as general guidance. Check with your own consultants for your specific needs.

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