The 2012 open enrollment period for the Medicare prescription drug benefit, known as Part D, began on Oct. 15 and will run through Dec. 7.
Seniors and persons with disabilities now have the opportunity to enroll in the program or switch their current plan if a better option is available in the coming year.
Plans can change dramatically from year to year so the most important thing for Kentuckians on Medicare to remember during open enrollment is that they have a choice in deciding the best and most affordable plan to fit their health care needs.
Medicare Part D was created in 2006 to help beneficiaries pay for expensive prescription medications. Not only has this program received high marks in beneficiary satisfaction surveys, it has also consistently come in under budget, saving taxpayers and seniors valuable health care dollars every year.
Furthermore, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act has made the program even more affordable for beneficiaries by closing the spending gap known as the "doughnut hole" over the next several years.
Part D currently provides comprehensive prescription drug coverage to more than 40 million people with Medicare, including 63 percent of Kentucky seniors. Statistics show that Medicare Part D has dramatically improved seniors' access to the prescription medications they need to live healthy, happy lives.
Increased access to medications saves in long-term health care costs as studies show that adherence to a prescribed medication regimen reduces skilled nursing home visits, emergency room visits, hospital stays and other forms of catastrophic health care.
A study by The Journal of the American Medical Association found that Part D saved $1,200 in such costs in one year for each senior who previously lacked comprehensive prescription drug coverage.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimates that the average monthly Part D premium in 2013 will be just $30, a figure that has remained unchanged for the last four years.
Part D helps beneficiaries save on short- and long-term health care costs while also helping taxpayers as costs have come in 43 percent under initial projections, saving the country $435 billion.
The Medicare Part D program is working and beneficiaries are happy with the service it is providing. A recent Medicare Today survey found that 96 percent of beneficiaries were satisfied with their coverage, with 80 percent stating that their plans were predictable, affordable, reasonable and offered good value.
The survey also found that 61 percent of beneficiaries say that without Part D they would be unable to fill all of their prescriptions.
Part of the reason seniors are happy with Part D is the choices they are afforded and the ability to control out of pocket premium and deductible costs by comparing and shopping for the best plans.
Here in Kentucky, Part D premiums can be found as low as $15, with many plans offering coverage with no annual deductibles.
Although Part D is saving taxpayer dollars and providing beneficiaries with easy and affordable access to their medications, numerous threats loom on the horizon.
Curtailing our country's growing deficit will be a major concern for policymakers in Washington and the Medicare program is in the cross-hairs.
When it comes to increasing access to quality care, Part D has been very successful. It has proven that government entitlement programs can function effectively and efficiently, containing costs and coming in under budget. Part D should be viewed as a model that provides essential services and choice for some of our most vulnerable citizens.
Jodi Mitchell is executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health, coalition of nearly 250 organizations and individuals.