LONG BRANCH, NJ - Last week marked the start of Medicare Open Enrollment, the period of time from October 15th through December 7th when eligible Medicare beneficiaries can make changes to their health and prescription drug coverage plans without penalty.  Seniors who have questions about their Medicare options for 2016 are encouraged to contact Family and Children's Service (FCS), Monmouth County's oldest private, nonprofit social service agency, to schedule a free appointment with one of our qualified State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) counselors.

"Our specially trained SHIP staff and volunteers are here to help you cut through the confusion and take the stress off of the Open Enrollment process," says Samantha White, FCS Manager of Volunteer Services. "We don't provide legal advice or recommend any specific insurance product or provider. We simply want to help you select the best Medicare and Medicare Part D coverage options to meet your needs."

During the Open Enrollment Period, which runs through December 7th, current or newly eligible Medicare beneficiaries can make a number of changes to their plans, including:
- Change from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan.
- Change from a Medicare Advantage Plan back to Original Medicare.
- Switch from one Medicare Advantage Plan to another Medicare Advantage Plan.
- Switch from a Medicare Advantage Plan that doesn't offer drug coverage to a Medicare Advantage Plan that offers drug coverage.
- Switch from a Medicare Advantage Plan that offers drug coverage to a Medicare Advantage Plan that doesn't offer drug coverage.
- Join a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan.
- Switch from one Medicare Prescription Drug Plan to another.
- Drop your Medicare prescription drug coverage completely.

White encourages Medicare beneficiaries to re-evaluate their insurance annually because coverage can change and shopping around for the best plans can save money. SHIP counselors can also help determine if a person may qualify for Medicare's "Extra Help" program to assist with prescription drug costs. Nationwide, it's estimated that more than 2 million beneficiaries are eligible for the program, but are not currently enrolled.

White also suggests scheduling a counseling session as soon as possible. Last year, SHIP counselors fielded 45-50 calls per day during Open Enrollment, a more than 10% jump over the previous year. To meet the increased demand, counselors volunteered extra hours. Currently, FCS has 20 volunteer counselors serving at 20 different locations and a variety of informational sessions throughout Monmouth County. Upcoming informational sessions are scheduled for:

Friday, Oct. 19, 10 - 11:30 am - Neptune Senior Center, 1607 NJ-33, Neptune City
Tuesday, Oct. 27, 11:30 am - 12:30 pm - Keyport Senior Center, 110 2nd St., Keyport
Wednesday, Oct. 28, 11 am - 12:00 pm - Red Bank Senior Center, 65 Chestnut Street, Red Bank
Thursday, Oct. 29, 1:30 - 2:30 pm -- Howell Senior Center, 251 Preventorium Rd, Howell
And 7:00 - 8:00 pm, Monmouth County Library, Manalapan, 125 Symmes Dr, Manalapan Township

Friday, Nov. 13, noon - 1:00 pm, Long Branch Library, 328 Broadway, Long Branch

To schedule your free, confidential counseling session with a trained, unbiased counselor please call FCS at 732-728-1331. To learn more about this or any of FCS's 13 programs, or if you're interested in becoming a SHIP volunteer, visit us online at www.fcsmonmouth.org ###

About Family & Children's Service
Family & Children's Service (FCS) strengthens, protects and preserves the dignity and independence of people in need. With 105 years of history, FCS is the oldest nonprofit social service agency in Monmouth County and a leading volunteer organization. Our Mission is to provide compassionate care, intervention and education to support people at challenging times in their lives. We accomplish this through 11 programs focused on the needs of multiple at-risk populations, including: Adult Protective Services, Healthy Buddies, an intergenerational childhood obesity prevention program; Home Care; Kids Corps, a teen volunteer initiative; Operation Sleighbells, a holiday giving program for children; Reading Buddies; an in-school childhood literacy program; Representative Payee, a financial management program for the mentally, developmental and physically disabled; Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP); Statewide Respite Care, State Health Insurance Program (SHIP), a Medicare counseling service and The Thrift Boutique. Learn more at www.fcsmonmouth.org.