Medicare prescription drug plan open season began Nov. 15

Christina Vital/Social Security Manage

The open season for enrollment in the Medicare Part D prescription drug program is upon us. Newly eligible Medicare beneficiaries, and current Medicare beneficiaries who are considering changes to their Medicare Part D plan, should mark their calendars. The "open season" for Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage will run from Nov. 15 to Dec. 31.

The Medicare Part D prescription drug program is available to ALL Medicare beneficiaries to help with the costs of medications. Joining a Medicare prescription drug plan is voluntary, and participants pay an additional monthly premium for the coverage. You sign up for Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage with private insurance companies that are under contract with Medicare.

While all Medicare beneficiaries can participate in the prescription drug program, some people with income and resources below certain limits may also be eligible for extra help to pay for monthly premiums, annual deductibles and prescription co-payments. In 2008, the extra help is worth an average of $3,600; in 2009, it's worth an average of $3,900. 

To figure out whether you are eligible for the extra help, the Social Security Administration needs to know your income and the value of any savings, investments and real estate you have (other than the home you live in). To qualify you must be receiving Medicare and also have income and resources within certain limits.

You can complete an easy-to-use online application for yourself or someone you care about at www.socialsecurity.gov. Click on Medicare on the top right side of the page. Then click on "Apply for help with prescription drug costs." To apply for the extra help by phone or have an application mailed to you, call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and ask for the Application for Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs (SSA-1020). Or go to your nearest Social Security office.

And if you would like more information about the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Program itself, visit www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227; TTY 1-877-486-2048).