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A helping hand along the way

Kate Selseth, director of the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging, explains Medicare prescription drug enrollment to an audience Tuesday at Bethesda Pleasant View in Willmar. Tribune photo by Anne Polta

WILLMAR -- Not far into Kate Selseth's presentation on the ins and outs of Medicare and how to compare plans on the Web site, someone in the second row had a question: What if you don't know how to use a computer?

"You don't have to know. We can do that," assured Selseth, the director of the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging.

The presentation Tuesday night at Bethesda Pleasant View was one of several being held this fall to help prepare seniors for the annual ritual of open enrollment in Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage for the coming year.

Similar sessions will be held at 1 p.m. today at Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar and at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 30 at Willmar Community Center, 624 Hwy. 71 N.E.

If there's one message that senior advocates want people to know, it's this: There's help available to guide them through an enrollment process that can be complicated and confusing.

"We want to make sure people are aware of the open enrollment and they know where to find the help," Selseth said.

January will mark the start of the fifth year that Medicare prescription drug coverage has been available. Nearly 27 million people over the age of 65 are enrolled in Part D, which helps seniors pay for their medications.

Open enrollment, which began this week and ends Dec. 31, is often a time of questions, especially among seniors who might need to change their prescription drug plan, Selseth said.

She and her staff have been traveling around the region this fall to provide information and help.

"People are coming out for the sessions. They want to know what changes affect them," she said.

The Tuesday night meeting at Pleasant View, for instance, drew more than two dozen people.

In Minnesota, Medicare recipients can choose from among 44 stand-alone prescription drug plans and 28 Medicare Advantage plans that include prescription drug coverage. Because a handful of plans are leaving the market at the end of this year, some beneficiaries will be forced to switch. Formularies and even participating pharmacies also can change from one year to the next, requiring seniors to evaluate their coverage during open enrollment in each and determine if it still meets their needs.

Whether they stay with their current plan or choose a different one, it's generally a difficult choice for many seniors to make, Selseth said.

"It's being confident in that decision. I think that's the biggest concern," she said.

Selseth advises people to call the Minnesota Senior LinkAge Line at 1-800-333-2433 or the Rice Health Insurance Counseling Program at 320-231-4069 for help in answering their questions and sorting through their options.

"Part of what we do is we will meet with you individually and walk through this with you. We'll give you enough information to make informed choices," she said. "You're not alone here."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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