Navigating through Medicare

Medicare can be confusing and difficult to navigate. The good news is that there are several resources available that can help.

The State Health Insurance Counseling (SHIC) program, provided by the North Dakota Insurance Department (NDID), is a free and unbiased source designed to answer questions or address issues regarding Medicare. This includes questions about enrolling in, Part A – hospital coverage; Part B – medical or outpatient coverage; Part C – other Medicare health plan options and; Part D – prescription drug plans. Questions frequently answered by SHIC include billing questions, complaints and grievances, as well as coverage issues. Individuals are encouraged to contact SHIC at (888) 575-6611 for assistance.

Enrollment questions can also be directed to the local Social Security office. While somewhat confusing, Social Security is primarily involved with Medicare in two areas – enrollment and money. Individuals may can contact Social Security to get help with enrollment in original Medicare (Parts A & B). This can also be done independently by accessing their website below. They will help you understand what your premiums will be. There are offices located in Bismarck, Devils Lake, Fargo, Grand Forks, Jamestown, Minot and Williston. They can also provide information for anyone qualifying for “Extra Help”; an income-asset based program that can reduce costs associated with a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan (PDP). The national Social Security Administration office can be contacted at 800-772-1213 or by visiting their website at www.ssa.gov/benefits/medicare.

Contacting Medicare directly is another resource. Call 1-800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227) or visit www.medicare.gov.

If paying premiums and other Medicare costs are a concern, county social services offices can be a source of assistance. Individuals can apply for a Medicare Savings Program (MSP), which may pay the Part B premium and other costs. These are income / asset based programs and to qualify, and individual must be at or below their minimums.

The SHIC program trains volunteers across the state to offer free and unbiased help. SHIC counselors do not sell any insurance products, nor can they recommend what you should do. They review each situation and offer information that can help individuals make the best-informed decisions. This program is especially rewarding as it allows for opportunities to truly make a difference in someone’s life.

We track savings that result from changing to a different Part D prescription drug plan, which any beneficiary can do annually between October 15 and December 7 each year. Last year the average savings was greater than $1,350.

You Could Help Others

Volunteers can assist North Dakotans with questions on Medicare. The SHIC staff provides first time and annual training to all volunteers to help keep them updated on changes to Medicare.

Those interested in helping, may do so by assisting SHIC staff at enrollment events, or by presenting Medicare information by handing out booklets and forms at senior centers or when manning a booth at health fairs. For more information about the various ways you can serve as a volunteer, please call 1-888-575-6611.