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What to know about Medicare Open Enrollment this year

Alicia Colombo

Medicare open enrollment closes on Monday, Dec. 7!

While Medicare as a whole may look pretty similar to past years, APPRISE, Pennsylvania’s state health insurance assistance program, will look very different this year for Philadelphia. APPRISE provides free counseling to people who qualify for Medicare and is funded through Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) within the commonwealth. Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA) oversees the APPRISE program for Philadelphia County. As with many in-person services, APPRISE in Philadelphia had to shift to a virtual space to comply with social distancing guidelines.

“As of now, we are conducting all counseling services through phone or video chat,” says Lynda Pickett, PCA’s assistant director of In-Home Support Program and Volunteer Services. “That may change down the line, but for now we are scheduling calls only.”

Each year, APPRISE in Philadelphia assists close to 1,000 individuals during the annual Medicare open enrollment period, which runs Oct. 15 through Dec. 7.

APPRISE counselors are available to answer questions about Medicare, as well as Medigap and Medicare Advantage Plans. Counselors also assist with evaluating and comparing plans and offer guidance on which plans will best fit the participant’s needs.

“They have the ability to cross-compare to make sure you are getting the most bang for your buck,” says Pickett.

Daniel Louis, an APPRISE counselor through the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly (CARIE), recently  helped Medicare participants save about $2,000 by comparing his current Medicare coverage with other viable options.

“It’s important to consistently evaluate your Medicare plan. Not only do health care and prescription drug needs change over time, but also premiums change over time,” Louis says. “If you don’t keep an eye on them, your premiums could be going up every year without you knowing.” Before becoming an APPRISE volunteer, he served as managing director of the Asano-Gonnella Center for Research in Medical Education & Health Care at Sydney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University for 32 years.

Counselors can also evaluate whether individuals can qualify for the Medicare Savings Plan, which helps pay some costs associated with Medicare Part B, or for Extra Help, which allows income-eligible participants to reduce Medicare prescription drug costs.

What’s new to Medicare in 2020?
As with almost all federal programs, Medicare has evolved slightly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Louis explains that coverage for telehealth “visits” has expanded through Medicare since the onset of the pandemic as telehealth appointments have rose in popularity because they do not require patients to go into the doctor’s office and are an alternative to face-to-face visits.

While Medicare has “loosened their restrictions” on telehealth visits, Louis cautions that it is not certain whether that will continue post COVID-19.

How to make an APPRISE appointment
Medicare beneficiaries can schedule an appointment for APPRISE counseling by calling:

  • CARIE: 215-545-5728 (South, West and North Central Philadelphia)
  • Einstein Medical Center: 215-456-7600 (Northeast and Northwest Philadelphia)
  • Statewide APPRISE Helpline: 800-783-7067 (Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia)

Prior to each scheduled appointment, Medicare participants should have their Medicare card on hand. New Medicare cards, which no longer include a social security number, were issued to all beneficiaries in 2018 and 2019. Pickett suggests that individuals also have a list of their current health care providers and prescriptions, so counselors can identify plans to meet their current and possibly future health care needs.

According to Louis, one of the most beneficial steps a Medicare recipient can do, especially those new to Medicare, is to set up an online account at You don’t need an account to access the Medicare Plan Finder tool, where you can shop and compare plans. But having a account is beneficial in other ways. It saves a record of past prescriptions and claims, sends alerts if a participant is eligible for Extra Help, and even allows participants to enroll in plans online.

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