Speier Pushes for Extension of Medicare+Choice Special Enrollment Period
With the special enrollment period to allow seniors dropped from Medicare+Choice plans to select another health plan ending Dec. 31, Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) is sending a letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson asking him to extend the enrollment period into next year, the Ventura County Star reports. Seniors in California are more than three times as likely to be covered by a Medicare HMO plan than seniors in other parts of the country. A number of Medicare HMOs are dropping coverage in California -- 84,000 seniors will lose coverage this year -- but anyone older than 65 may purchase a Medigap policy during the special enrollment period. Advocates say that after this "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity to qualify for coverage regardless of age or medical condition expires, many seniors with pre-existing conditions will be unable to find affordable health coverage beyond basic fee-for-service Medicare. Speier said, "Extending [the enrollment period] could mean the difference between life and death. It's unfathomable that the timeline would not be extended." Advocates say the coverage changes and cancellation notices have started a "near panic" among seniors, who are "confus[ed]." In Ventura County, for example, Blue Shield and Health Net are dropping coverage, while the remaining plans -- Blue Cross, Kaiser Permanente and PacifiCare -- are raising premiums and adding new deductibles and copayments, the Star reports. For their part, industry representatives said they were forced to drop coverage due to low Medicare reimbursement rates (Herdt, Ventura County Star, 12/13).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.