Michael Castiglioni, of Vineland, examined Medicare Advantage plans carefully before choosing one from Horizon.
He considered coverage, deductibles, copay and such, but he also looked further, into other benefits of the plan.
"One advantage of the plan I have is that I get preventive features for free. I can go to the gym, consult a nutritionist. Some of these features are very nice," Castiglioni said.
He said it is important to pick a plan that covers the medicines you are taking - and even that is not enough.
"You have to watch carefully because every once in a while they send a letter telling which drugs they're no longer covering," Castiglioni said. Such coverage changes can make it beneficial to switch plans during the next enrollment period.
Marie A. Lawrence, of North Cape May, has supplemental coverage with AARP that takes care of what Medicare does not pay.
"The last couple of years, I've gone through a lot of medical bills related to cancer, and so far I haven't paid a cent," Lawrence said.
She called AARP's coverage the most reasonable, but her premium has gone up along with Medicare, from $111 to $203 per month.
Most recipients said billing by doctors required no effort on their part, but Joyce Vitulli, of Manahawkin, found that was not the case with medical lab filings.
"They may not put down all of the required information, and Medicare won't pay the whole thing unless the tests are written out," Vitulli said. "Those are the kinds of things you have a problem with."
The biggest problems, however, are the drug coverage gap (or doughnut hole) and costs that rise even as the inflation adjustment to Social Security shrinks.
Typically, plans cover the first $2,700 in drugs and then recipients must pay all drug costs out of pocket. Once they have paid $4,350, though, so-called catastrophic coverage begins, and they pay just a small copay for drugs the rest of the year.
The agreement between the pharmaceutical industry and the federal government seeks to cut those doughnut-hole costs significantly for most people.
Unless health care reform gets costs under control, they will continue to outpace general inflation and therefore the annual adjustment Social Security makes in its benefit payments.
Seniors had grown accustomed to the annual adjustment offsetting the annual increases in Medicare costs, but with inflation near zero, the cost of living increase is far smaller now.
"Unfortunately, most elderly spending is on health care, and health care has not gone down" like gasoline and house prices, said Marion Ingram, of Strathmere. "We can cut back on eating out, clothes and everything else, but we can't cut back on medical care."
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