PUBLISHED: 3:59 PM on Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Seniors are encouraged to enroll before Dec. 31 deadline to avoid benefit delays
Alaska seniors interested in getting prescription drug coverage through the Medicare Part D program are encouraged to call 1-800-Medicare (1-800-633-4227) to sign up as soon as possible. The line is open 24 hours a day, including weekends, but the line will be closed Dec. 25.

The annual open enrollment period runs until Dec. 31.

People who sign up at the last minute will have coverage beginning Jan. 1, but processing a new enrollment usually takes two to three weeks and they may have to pay for prescriptions out of pocket initially and be reimbursed later.

For assistance comparing Medicare prescription plans available in Alaska, call the Senior Information Office toll-free statewide at 1-800-478-6065.

Medicare recipients who do not sign up the first time they are eligible will pay a late fee when they do enroll, with the following exceptions: those who receive both Medicare and Medicaid; and those who have health care coverage that is comparable to Medicare.

Those who are insured should have received a "creditable coverage" letter saying whether their plan provides benefits similar to the Medicare prescription drug plan.

Seniors should retain these letters. That proof of creditable coverage allows them to switch from their current plan to Medicare later with no penalty.

If people switch to a Medicare plan, they may not be able to switch back, so seniors must be sure that adding a Medicare prescription plan does not jeopardize their current coverage, or that the Medicare drug plan provides a better benefit for them.

Seniors may call 1-800-Medicare (1-800-633-4227) for more information. For additional details on Medicare, see