By Janell Sluga

As individuals retire or age into Medicare, their insurance situation can change dramatically. There are a multitude of options open to those with Medicare. The terms are different, the prices are different, the products offered are dramatically different each year.

The purpose of this column is to give those who are eligible for Medicare, or soon to be eligible for Medicare, some understanding of their insurance options and how it could impact their health and finances.

These questions and answers are meant as a guide to help you understand the complex questions you are now thinking about. Each individual’s specific situation may create a different solution. You shouldn’t necessarily do what your friends, family and neighbors do.

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Q: I keep getting information from the insurance plan I had last year, and I have switched to a new plan for this year. Why do they keep mailing me their information when I no longer have their insurance?

A: I spend a lot of time talking about this issue. When we contact a company for information, that request is put into a computer, and a name is now on a mailing list. This mailing list at some point is distributed to many departments: the marketing department, the membership department, etc., and sometimes the list may be sold or given to other companies.

I will use Senior Life Matters as an example. If someone contacts my organization for information, we mail it out, without entering it into any database. If you become a client of ours, we enter your name, address, phone number, etc. into our computer.

Later on when we have to issue a bill, we have that information already in the computer. When we publish our newsletter, we use that database to print the labels. Now if you move, and we don’t know that, we continue to mail information to your old address. If you inform us, we update the mailing address, and it comes to the new location. If you were to die, we may not know that either, and we would continue to mail information to you until someone notified us of the death, or the post office returns the mail undeliverable.

We have a relatively small database, so it is easy to keep it up to date.

Now let’s think about a very large company like your prescription drug company. The prescription drug plans that operate with Medicare Part D become even more complicated.

The list is sent not only to the company involved, but also to Centers for Medicare Services (CMS), and sometimes EPIC. All of these companies use computers to maintain their database of members (names). These computers then send lists back and forth with updated information. As members switch from one company to another, this information is transmitted to the main membership computer databases. But this information is not always sent in a timely manner to the computer that generates the mailings that the companies send out.

Also the list for mailings may be published long before the actual mailing and therefore it isn’t up to date at the time of the mailing. This means that the mailing labels may be significantly out of date. I know of many individuals who continue to get mailings and information as though they are a current member many months and up to a year after their membership ends.

Each insurance company develops the 2013 marketing materials, or enrollment documents, very likely in early fall and then holds them for mailing closer to the end of the year. But to get all that material printed and mailed out, it needs to start early. So they are printing and preparing for mailing in October 2012 for the 2013 information. Then about that same time of 2012 you switch to an alternate company for 2013.

You still get that enrollment packet from your 2012 company because they have you on their list, when it is printed and mailed. You have switched to an alternative company and no longer have them, and don’t want the information. The law requires they send it to you, so if you had kept them you would have the necessary information relating to your coverage.

Also remember that if you had prescription drug coverage insurance with a company- Bravo, for example – and you fill medications, that company has to send you a monthly explanation of all the medications you filled. You will continue to get those documents into the new year when you no longer have that company, but they still have to send you documents for what happened in 2012.

When looking at the information sent to you for 2013, be sure you keep the correct packet of information. The company you no longer have, if you switched plans, you can get rid of that information. You don’t need it.

This article illustrates just some of the reasons that you continue to get information from companies with which you are no longer affiliated. It begins to explain why you get so much “junk” mail that you don’t want, aren’t interested in and just throw away. I always recommend recycling all this printed material. It is better for our environment in so many ways.

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Janell Sluga is a geriatric care manager certified and works for Senior Life Matters, a program of Lutheran Senior Housing, and has worked in Chautauqua County with seniors for more than 18 years. She is HIICAP (Health Insurance Information, Counseling & Assistance Program) counselor-trained by Office for the Aging. She does not sell insurance or represent any insurance company. She is an unbiased source of insurance and education to help seniors choose the best option for them.

You may submit questions to be answered in later columns to Janell Sluga at Senior Life Matters, 737 Falconer St., Jamestown, NY 14701, or call 716-720-9797, or by email at janells@lutheran-jamestown.org.

Please remember that not all questions can be answered in this format, but as many as can be, will be.