The message for those either enrolled or thinking of enrolling in Medicare Part D is clear: The time to shop is now.

>The message for those either enrolled or thinking of enrolling in Medicare Part D is clear: The time to shop is now.

“Plans change and your needs change,” said Susan Jackson, county extension agent. “You need to shop and compare.”

Jackson has attended training sessions so she can give help to those who need assistance in finding the right plan — a plan that they can sign up for only between Nov. 15 and Dec. 31.

The world of Medicare Part D, a prescription drug plan, is a confusing one. There are a myriad of plans offered by nearly as many companies — companies contracted to offer the insurance coverage.

Jackson said shopping is not as easy as looking at the monthly premium because what’s cheaper per month may not be the cheapest overall.

“Your drug list is probably the most important thing to consider,” Jackson said. “You don’t want to shop price. It may be that with a little more premium your annual costs might be less.”

Because not all plans cover the same drugs, and simply because a plan covered all of a person’s drugs last year doesn’t mean they will next year — companies are changing drug lists, premiums and coverage.

Jackson and volunteers can help shoppers find out what their out-of-pocket costs will be in a year for prescriptions for each plan available.

“We can see if you need a prior authorization for a drug or if they ask for step therapy,” Jackson said. “With step, the insurance company also will ask you to go back to generics to see if that works.”

And don’t think you can’t afford Medicare D without digging a little deeper. There is assistance to pay those premiums available.

“Here we can help them shop for plans and help see if they qualify for help,” Jackson said. “There is quite a bite of help with premiums.”

The extension office has volunteers, including volunteers in Halstead and Burrton, who can assist those who are considering a switch or are shopping for their first Medicare Part D plan.

And that help doesn’t end when a plan is selected, either.

The new plans, though enrolled in during November and December, will go into effect Jan. 1. Informational packets and insurance cards should be in consumer hands by that time.

“If they have called the company and are having a real problem with that, you can call us,” Jackson said.