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Medicare Begins Open Enrollment, With An Online Caveat

An image taken from the Medicare website shows a message warning users that "information on this website may not be up to date," a situation blamed on the federal shutdown.

The open enrollment for Medicare programs that began Tuesday will run into December. While the Medicare website doesn't have the problems found in the new federal health system's sites, the government shutdown means that information "may not be up to date," the site warns its users.

For Newscast, NPR's Julie Rovner reports:

"Medicare's open season is set to run from today until Dec. 7. It's when seniors and others enrolled in the program can join or change prescription drug or other health plans. But the government shutdown has meant that some of the information on the medicare.gov website about plan selections is not completely up to date.

"Government officials warn that Medicare patients may want to wait to make their final decisions until after the government reopens and the information is updated."

Congress and the White House are facing a Thursday deadline to agree on budget terms that would allow the government to resume full operations. Much of the debate has hinged on elements of the Affordable Care Act, which ushered in new health insurance exchanges this month.

As Jenny Gold reported for our Shots blog over the weekend, the online marketplaces that facilitate the ACA's health coverage have run into problems, ranging from software snags to staffing shortages.

On Medicare's page devoted to open enrollment, the agency notes, "Medicare's Open Enrollment is not part of the Affordable Care Act's new Health Insurance Marketplace, and people with Medicare do not need to do anything with Marketplace plans."

And as Julie has noted for Shots, those who want to sign up for Obamacare need to remember two looming deadlines.

"The first is Dec. 15. That's the date by which you need to be signed up if you want your coverage to begin Jan. 1, 2014," she says. "The other date is Feb. 15, 2014. That's the last day you can get coverage and avoid being liable for a penalty for not having insurance."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit www.npr.org.

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