Shopping for insurance

If you think you might qualify for a subsidy to help pay for health insurance, or want to purchase a policy available through the federal health insurance marketplace, visit www.healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596.

For more information about Medicare open enrollment, visit www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-633-4227.

For the first time ever, Medicare open enrollment partially overlaps with health insurance enrollment through the Affordable Care Act’s new health insurance marketplace.

For more information

To read more of The Post and Courier’s past coverage of the Affordable Care Act, visit our online health care guide, www.postandcourier.com/obamacare.

The site includes a calculator to determine if you qualify for a subsidy to help pay for insurance, and a state-by-state look at health care reform.

These enrollment processes are separate and unrelated, but the timing has generated some confusion among senior citizens about how federal health care reform affects their Medicare coverage.

The bottom line is relatively simple: The estimated 820,000 Medicare beneficiaries in South Carolina don’t need to bother withhealthcare.gov, and should look out for scam artists who suggest otherwise.

“It doesn’t affect them at all,” said Patti Embry-Tautenhan, a spokeswoman for BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina. “It is our experience that people are understandably confused.”

Enrollment through healthcare.gov runs from Oct. 1 through March 31. Medicare enrollment is sandwiched inside that time frame. It started Oct. 15 and ends Dec. 7.

Medicare patients can change their coverage during the open enrollment period, but aren’t required to take any action if they are satisfied with their current plan. Residents who qualify for Medicare should use www.medicare.govto enroll or make changes to their policy, not healthcare.gov.

Residents who are younger than 65 and are not disabled can use healthcare.gov to shop for a plan.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services warn that Medicare customers should be leery of insurance agents — or anyone else — who suggest that they shop for a plan through the new insurance marketplace at healthcare.gov.

“The Medicare open enrollment period is a time when there’s a higher risk for fraudulent activities,” the CMS website explained. “It’s against the law for someone who knows that you have Medicare to sell you a Marketplace plan.”

This is good news for Medicare patients because signing up for Medicare online, by phone or through an agent is a much simpler process than trying to enroll in a plan through healthcare.gov.

Even Obamacare cheerleaders have called the marketplace launch troubled from the start.

President Barack Obama himself admitted Monday morning during a press conference that the new platform needs help.

“No one is more frustrated than I am,” the president said.

More than 80 percent of the state’s population is already insured and does not need to worry how fast healthcare.gov gets fixed, because they won’t need to use it. Most people are insured through their employers, Medicare or Medicaid.

Teresa Arnold, state director of AARP South Carolina, said that some Medicare beneficiaries may be confused by the enrollment overlap, especially considering the publicity surrounding the new insurance marketplace, but said that parts of the Affordable Care Act actually benefit Medicare patients.

“They don’t have to do anything to take advantage of the improvements. They’re just built into the law,” Arnold said.

These new benefits include free annual wellness check-ups and free preventative screenings, such as mammograms and colonoscopies.

“As we get older, those things are more crucial to our health,” Arnold said.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598. The Associated Press contributed to this report.