Medicare open enrollment started Monday

The Medicare agency is encouraging beneficiaries to take advantage of the annual Open Enrollment period, which started Monday. This is the one time every year when people with Medicare can review and, if necessary, change their current health care coverage.

Open enrollment this year began Nov. 15 and runs through Dec. 31. 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Friday announced the Medicare premiums, deductibles and co-insurance amounts to be paid by Medicare beneficiaries in 2011.

The standard Part B rate is $115.40 a month, a 4.4 percent increase over last year; but most seniors will pay the same Part B premium as they have since 2008: $96.40 per month. Richer seniors — the top 5 percent of earners — will pay between $161.50 and $369.10 because of a surcharge adopted in Republicans' 2003 prescription drug benefit.

Medicare says the premium is going up because of "growth in the use of services like outpatient hospital care, home health and physician-administered drugs." The premium also incorporates potential congressional action to avert a 23 percent physician pay cut scheduled for Dec. 1.

The deductible for Part A Medicare (hospital and nursing home care) goes up $32 next year, to $1,132.

For prescription drug plans, the average premium for all plans will rise by 9.49 percent, according to estimates by the policy group Avalere. Under the new healthcare reform law, according to Forbes, the richest seniors will pay an extra $12 to $69.10 a month for their coverage.