Open enrollment for Medicare has begun and there’s a business in downtown Grand Junction that can help ease the process.

The Medicare Resource Center, located at 327 North Seventh Street, is offering a space for beneficiaries to learn about their options before committing to a new medicare advantage option.

That’s important for two reasons: the COVID-19 pandemic, and that one of the Grand Valley’s largest providers, Rocky Mountain Health Plans, is making changes to its Medicare program. Because of that change, it’s important that beneficiaries vet all of their options before making a decision.

“People turn 65 years old and become eligible for Medicare. They choose a plan that fits them at that time but their needs are going to change for better or worse in 5-10 years, so they need a change to their plan,” said Joe Barrows, sales director at the Medicare Resource Center. “We sit down with beneficiaries and figure out what plans will cover the services they need.”

Barrows and the Resource Center have been busy lately. The changes to the RMHP plan means that about 5,000 people are going to need to either commit to the new plans or search for others by the end of the year. If they do not, they will default to basic Medicare coverage and could lose whatever advantages their current plan has.

RMHP offered a Medicare Cost plan for over 40 years and is ending at the end of the year, Barrows said. It will offer two new advantage plans for 2021, that’s when the confusion starts.

It’s also important to know the difference between Medicare Advantage and Medicare Supplement programs. Supplement plans fill in the gaps of one’s existing plan, while Medicare Advantage Plans are alternative ways to get Medicare. Medicare Advantage Plans are provided by private companies that agree to follow certain rules established by Medicare.

Letters notifying members of the change were sent out in October, said Stephen Cole, who works for New Horizons Insurance Agency on 2829 North Ave. Suite 111. The letters mentioned the changes and special exceptions members will be given because of the major change.

“We are no longer offering Medicare Cost plans, and Rocky Mountain Health Plans will now be offering new Medicare Advantage plans to better meet the needs of our members,” Leanne Hart, vice president of marketing and communications at RMHP wrote in an email to The Daily Sentinel. “Our new plans are available to Medicare beneficiaries who have Parts A, B, and D and who live in Mesa, Delta, La Plata, and Montezuma counties.”

Though enrollment ends on Dec. 7, members under the old plan will be given an extra grace period to enroll, which ends on Feb. 28, Hart wrote.

Because of the pandemic, there’s also been renewed interest and motivation from beneficiaries in ensuring that they are covered. However, because beneficiaries are older and therefore more at risk of COVID-19, in-person meetings are rare.

“As long as they have email, we can do enrollments over the phone,” Cole said.

In some cases, though, people require in-person meetings at the Resource Center office. Though they have an air filtration system, rigorous sanitizing process and plexiglass to separate people, Barrows said they are still discouraging in-person meetings.

Last week, Mesa County moved to the Level Orange: High Risk section on the COVID-19 dial after an alarming rise in case numbers. If this trend continues, a stay-at-home order could be on the horizon.

“This is a really difficult challenge,” Barrows said. “I saw one couple who suffer from hearing loss and another who doesn’t have a computer. They need this resource.”

In the meantime, though, it’s important that people thoroughly explore all of their options for Medicare coverage and for beneficiaries to look within their community.

Cole said that beneficiaries can be tricked into unfavorable situations from agents on the other side of the country.

“Keep it local, make sure you have an agent who is also your neighbor,” Cole said. “People are anxious right now but you have to be patient. People call from Virginia trying to get clients, and providing your information over the phone to someone you don’t know.”

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