Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, issued a reminder Thursday for her constituents to review their Medicare plans before the open enrollment period ends Wednesday, Dec. 7.

The open enrollment period is the time during which beneficiaries can choose to change plans or shift between Medicare Advantage and Original Medicare. This year, open enrollment started earlier and will last longer, a full seven weeks, to give beneficiaries enough time to review and make changes to their coverage.

The new open enrollment period will also better ensure that individuals have their membership cards in hand and can receive uninterrupted health care coverage on Jan. 1, 2012. Beneficiaries should have received their “2012 Medicare & You handbook,” as well as a notice from their current plan that described any changes from the 2011 to 2012 plans by late September. Click here to view the handbook online.

“I encourage all Medicare beneficiaries — and their family members — to review their current health and drug plan coverage for any changes their plans may be making for 2012 during the open enrollment period,” Capps said. “Reviewing the plan will allow Central Coast seniors to ensure that their Medicare plan is best plan to meet their health care needs.”

In addition, users of the Medicare Plan Finder, available at, will be able to compare plans’ quality summary ratings from the previous year, identify which drugs may or may not be on a plan’s formulary or be restricted, and compare the cost ranges for plans available in their community. To make it easier for beneficiaries to choose high-quality plans, users will find an icon that shows those plans that had a low overall quality rating the past three years and will also see a gold star icon for those plans that have a five-star rating for 2012.

Due to recently enacted changes in the program, Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D prescription drug benefits are stronger than ever while beneficiaries continue to have access to a range of affordable products. But each year plans change both in what they cost and what they cover. Click here to find helpful Medicare tools and information, and compare the cost or benefits of 2012 Medicare health plans in your area.

In addition, one-on-one counseling assistance is available from the California Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program at 800.434.0222, or through your local California Health Insurance Counseling & Advocacy Program office, also known as HICAP. This federally funded program will help you find the right coverage for your prescriptions, resolve billing issues and coordinate with federal agencies that can further assist you in finding care. Click here to find your local office.

— Ashley Schapitl is press secretary for Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara.