Open enrollment for Medicare began on October 15 and runs through December 7, 2023. It’s the only time of the year people can sign up and change their Part D or drug plan coverages.
Connie Riesselman is the Senior Health Insurance and Information Program (SHIIP) counselor at CCMH. Riesselman said the intensive training to become a SHIIP counselor is necessary due to the everchanging nature of Medicare and all the supplements that go along with it.
“This is my third year of serving as a SHIIP counselor. Not only are you required to go through a very specific training course to do this work, but there’s also continuing education. Because, as we all know, everything changes just when you get used to it. There are typically updates in the spring, and updates in the fall, and all the emails in between with changes and things going on, so we are constantly informed with up-to-date information about Medicare.”
Riesselman says she has a new partner this year to help her handle all of the traffic during the Medicare open enrollment period.
“Barb Ruser is new to us but not to CCMH. Barb worked at CCMH for many years. She recently went through the training for the SHIIP program, and she is taking clients and appointments as well. Barb has also assisted with the ‘Welcome to Medicare’ programs we’ve hosted this year.”
Although Medicare has been around since the mid-1960s, Riesselman maintains it remains a complicated system to understand and navigate.
“At the last seminar, I had someone who’s been on Medicare for years and years who attended and she thanked me afterwards. She said, ‘I know I’m not new to Medicare, but I learned so much at this seminar about the Medicare I have.’ I think that’s so true with people who come to my office, even during open enrollment. They asked me questions about supplements and drug plans and Medicare Advantage plans and ‘what is part A’ and ‘what is part B’ and ‘what’s D’ and ‘what’s C’ and all these different letters. Those are the things we talk about at our Welcome to Medicare seminars. Not only is it informational for people new to Medicare, it’s also for people who’ve been on Medicare for a while and don’t understand it.”
Riesselman noted the open enrollment period for Medicare this year is more than half over.
“We’ve been busy every day with appointments. I’m here at CCMH some days, some days Barb is here. We just have one office, so we share days and we’ve had appointments every weekday. We’ve seen over a hundred people. We’ve got more appointments scheduled but we have plenty of openings yet. If anyone wants to call and make an appointment, we will have time for you.”
The most usual questions are the ones about the upcoming drug plans for next year.
“Many of the people we meet with want to know which is the best plan for them because we specialize in Medicare Part D which is the drug plan. This is the only time that you can enroll in new plans for 2024. After December 7, you’re stuck with the plan that you had last year, and we can’t look at new plans. So most of the questions during open enrollment are about that.”
Crawford County Memorial Hospital cooperates with all the other hospitals and counties in Iowa through the statewide SHIIP program.
“Almost all counties in Iowa have a SHIIP counselor. If there’s only one in the county and they become overloaded with people, they refer them to the SHIIP Office in Des Moines which is through the Iowa Insurance Division. The state office can help people over the phone find new drug plans for next year. If the state SHIIP office gets overloaded with people, then they will refer them to other counties if they have openings. If we don’t have a full schedule at CCMH, the SHIIP Office in Des Moines might call me and say, ‘can you help these five people find new drug plans?’ Those people might be from Polk County, but I would be able to do help them.”
Riesselman s explained if someone is coming to the SHIIP office for the first time, there are a couple of items they will need to bring with them.
“You will need to bring your Medicare card and a list of their prescription medications. We can go to Medicare.gov and open up an account and look at the different drug plans. I can show you on the computer the differences between original Medicare with a supplement and a drug plan and Medicare Advantage plans. I can show you all the advantages and disadvantages of both.”
Riesselman and Ruser see people in their office at CCMH every weekday from 10 am to 5 pm through the end of the open enrollment period on December 7.
“You can make an appointment by calling 712-265-2509. When either Barb or I are unavailable, the call will be transferred to a receptionist who can get you signed up and scheduled. Once we get past December 7, people who need the SHIIP office can also call for information or appointments. For example, if you’re turning 65 after December 7 and you have questions, there is a separate open enrollment from January through March. Another example could be knowing if you can change supplement plans. If your mom is in the nursing home and she got a whole new batch of prescriptions, people in nursing homes can change their drug plan every month. Not assisted living but in the nursing home they can change their drug plan every month because their prescriptions might change. It can be confusing. So just call 265-2509 and we’ll see what we can do to help”.