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Workshops help with Medicare plans

The epidemiologic investigation is sponsored by the American

The epidemiologic investigation is sponsored by the American Cancer Society and involves physicians at major medical centers across the country. Credit: Istock

Can you use an extra $368? That's the average yearly amount Medicare beneficiaries overspent on Part D premiums and drugs because they didn't choose the least expensive plan that covers their needs, according to a new analysis by the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences. Most beneficiaries allow the plan they are already enrolled in to automatically renew without shopping around. But with many plans raising monthly premiums in 2013, this may be the time to go from autopilot to taking control.

The open-enrollment period to choose a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan and a Medicare Advantage plan began Monday and ends Dec. 7. Information for every Part D and Advantage plan is available at medicare.gov, where you can enroll online. But if you need hands-on help, Nassau County's Office for the Aging is holding two workshops. Experts from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will discuss Part D and Advantage plans as well as traditional Medicare. Also on hand will be representatives from Social Security, who can answer your questions about that program.

The workshops include question-and-answer sessions and, time permitting, one-on-one advice. The representatives cannot recommend a specific plan, but they will point you in the right direction, says Kathleen Foster, the workshops' coordinator.

The workshops are Tuesday, 10:30 to 11:45 a.m. at Herricks Community Center in New Hyde Park, and Oct. 30, 10:30 to 11:45 a.m. at Jewel Quinn Senior Center in North Merrick. For information, call 516-227-8915. The workshops are free and open to all Long Island residents.

There are 28 Part D plans available in New York for 2013, one fewer than this year. The most popular plan among New Yorkers is AARP MedicareRx Preferred. Monthly premiums for the AARP plan in 2013 are $43.70, up $3.40 (or 8.4 percent), from this year.

As for Medicare Advantage, these are private plans that replace original Medicare Part A (hospital costs) and Part B (physician services). Most Advantage plans also include drug coverage. People buy these plans because they offer more comprehensive coverage or pay for health care not covered by Medicare, such as dental services. If you choose an Advantage plan with drug coverage, you cannot apply for a Part D plan.

If you can't attend the workshops, you can get help by calling Medicare at 800-633-4227. You also can reach advisers at the local Health Insurance Information and Assistance Program (HIICAP) at 800-701-0501.

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