Help comparison shopping for Medicare prescription drug plans will be close to home this fall.

People in eight Northeast Mississippi counties, including Itawamba, will have free access to trained Medicare Part D counselors as part of a partnership between county boards of supervisors, Three Rivers Planning and Development District and the Mississippi Department of Aging and Adult Services.

During the annual Medicare open enrollment period, which started Tuesday and runs through Dec. 7, the counselors will be available in Pittsboro, Okolona, Houston, Fulton, Oxford, Tupelo, Aberdeen, Amory, Pontotoc and New Albany from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Three Rivers has long partnered with the state aging department to participate in the state health insurance program, SHIP for short, to make assistance with Medicare available to area residents.

Seniors taking advantage of Medicare Part D should comparison shop because premiums, drug pricing and seniors’ own medication needs can change, said Wade Holland, the state health insurance program coordinator for Three Rivers.

“They need to check every year,” Holland said. “There’s a lot of variables.”

Of the people who have sought help to comparison shop through Three Rivers, most people found savings. “About 80 percent found a better plan,” Holland said.

Some have saved up to $1,200 a year.

“$1,200 a year can be a lot of groceries, especially for someone on Social Security,” Roper said.

The partnership is a pilot program by the state aging and adult services department, and it provided the funding to cover the salaries of the counselors. The county boards have provided space in county-owned buildings like courthouses for the counselors to meet with seniors during open enrollment.

In Itawamba County, counselors will be available at the ICDC building in downtown Fulton.

“We hope we’re going to reach more seniors across the eight counties and save them money,” Holland said.

Seniors should bring their Medicare cards and a list of their medications, and the counselors will be able to help them shop the Medicare Part D database. The counselors will be able to help people enroll in the plans, if they wish. The sessions last about 15 minutes. The counselors are also prepared to help with other Medicare questions, Holland said.

“We hope it is well received and across the state, we could have counselors in every county,” Holland said.

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