There are times when we suspect we are too curious for our own good. We barge full steam ahead and then are sorry that we learned what we learned.

And such was the case last week when we attended a meeting, held at the Bassett Medical Center, to learn more about Medicare. After all, in  just over a year we will findourselves part of the system and thus thought it was time to learn something about the system. And while we are indeed glad that we attended, we have great misgivings about what we learned.

Presentations were made on Medicaid, EPIC, which is a state program designed to supplement Medicare Part D, and Medicare. We found all the speakers to be well informed and very dedicated to helping seniors navigate the system to find the best health care coverage possible. However, just listening to them made us realize what a complicated, and ever changing, system Medicare really is.

Going into the meeting we had a rough idea of what we thought we would do, namely sign up for Medicare parts A and B, then find supplemental insurance and finally sign up for a prescription drug plan under Medicare Part D. On the face of it, we thought it sounded fairly straight forward. Having attended the meeting, we are no longer certain that is the case. In fact as we listened to the various speakers, we could not help thinking that the powers that be could not have made the Medicare program more confusing if they had tried.

And added to this confusion is that fact that as of Jan. 1, there are going to be substantial changes in some of the programs which may affect one’s coverage adversely. We found the proposed changes to the EPIC program to be the most disturbing. For those not acquainted with this program it is designed to help pay for the prescription drugs for those seniors eligible for the program. Eligibility requirements include being 65 years of age, a resident of New York, meeting the income limits and, new for 2012, being enrolled in a Medicare Part D program. As far as we could tell, EPIC will cover less of the prescription costs in 2012 and thus it is vitally important that anyone who relies on the EPIC program should review very carefully current coverage and compare it to the 2012 coverage. Not doing so could result in some hefty increases in out of pocket expenses. However, it should be noted that in 2012, there will be no cost to be enrolled in the EPIC program.

It was also pointed out that seniors should also check their Part D Medicare coverage to be certain that the prescription drugs they take are still being covered by their plan.

As new drugs come on the market, it is important to know if they will be covered and what the co-pay will be.

Likewise, those seniors who are on a Medicare Advantage program should also check their benefits to be certain changes have not been made that will affect them adversely.

In fact, musing about what we learned at the meeting, we would suggest that anyone who is enrolled in Medicare should review not only costs, but also benefits of coverage as it may change for 2012.

And should changes need to be made, they must be made during the open enrollment period which, this year, runs from Oct. 15 until Dec. 7. The open enrollment timeframe is earlier this year than it has been in the past. So we  encourage everyone to makenote of the change in the dates for the open enrollment and act accordingly.

Fortunately, since the Medicare scene seems so incredibly confusing, help is available, for residents of Otsego Country, through the Otsego County Office of the Aging.

To meet with someone who actually understands what is going on, it is important to make an appointment by calling, in Oneonta, 432-9041 and in Cooperstown, 547-4232.

And we would suggest that calling for an appointment be  done sooner than later giventhe earlier dates for open enrollment. Help is also available online at http://www. Medicare.gov or by calling (800) Medicare (800) 633- 4227). Personally we would go with the former over the latter but that is just our take on the situation.

Another option for getting help would be to contact the New York Statewide Senior Action Council Medicare Help- Line at (800) 333-4374. Before the meeting we had never heard of this group. But we must say we were most impressed by their commitment to helping seniors and were so swept away with seemingly overall ugliness of Medicare and the hoops though which seniors have to jump, that we asked how we might help. We spoke with Sarah Jane Blake, the representative of the  organization present at themeeting, and mentioned to her that we would be writing about the meeting in our weekly column. We really felt we had no choice to do so, not that we didn’t want to do so, as several people in the audience asked us midway through the meeting if they were going to be able to read about it in the paper.

But we really feel quite strongly that we need to do more. We told Ms. Blake that we really didn’t know exactly what we might be able to do  to help, but we have thrownour hat in the ring, having signed up as a new member of the organization. Hopefully there will be a role that we might play in what we now see as an ongoing struggle for seniors to navigate the Medicare system.

And, given the changes that we heard about at the meeting, we would urge everyone who is on Medicare, or who has a family member or friend on Medicare, to review coverage for 2012 and make whatever changes might prove prudent to be assured of the best coverage at the best price for 2012. We were quite overwhelmed by the amount of material one needs to review in order to be fully informed.

And we can’t think we were the only person at the meeting who felt that way.

PLEASE NOTE: Comments regarding this column may be made by mail at 105 Pioneer Street, Cooperstown, NY 13326, by telephone at 547-8124 or by e-mail at cellsworth1@stny.rr.com.

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