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What People Need to Know About Medicare Open Enrollment

We asked Krista Bowers, Blue Shield of California’s general manager and vice president of Medicare for tips and what to consider for individuals and families looking for Medicare and Medicare Supplement plans for 2021

Starting Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, millions of Medicare beneficiaries will have the opportunity to pick a health or drug plan for 2021, or make changes to their current coverage in what is known as the annual election period (AEP). We asked Krista Bowers, Blue Shield of California’s general manager and vice president of Medicare for tips and what to consider for individuals and families looking for Medicare and Medicare Supplement plans for 2021.

What will be new in 2021 for Medicare beneficiaries looking at Blue Shield of California plans, and what do they need to know?

Every year in the Fall, Medicare beneficiaries need to think about making an informed decision on their health and drug needs for the following year and decide whether they want to change any of their Medicare coverage options. This is especially important this year as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and California wildfires.

Effective January 1, 2021, we're excited to announce new benefits for Blue Shield of California Medicare Advantage plan enrollees[i], including:

  • Telehealth services by phone or video 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Non-Medicare covered acupuncture evaluation and treatment.
  • Non-Medicare covered chiropractic services including initial and subsequent examinations and treatment, X-rays and laboratory tests.
  • In addition to the annual wellness visit, one physical exam every 12 months that includes a comprehensive review of the member’s medical and family history, a detailed head-to-toe assessment, and other services.
  • Home meal delivery service for members who are discharged from an inpatient hospital or skilled nursing facility – up to 22 meals and 10 snacks.

We’re also expanding our coverage across California, with service area expansions in Northern California’s Santa Clara, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties as well as San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties in the central coast region. Our goal is to serve more Californians with our innovative plan designs and benefits.

What makes Blue Shield stand out with our Medicare and Medicare Supplement product lines? 

This year, Blue Shield of California formed a collaboration with AAA Northern California to bring important products and services to our Medicare Supplement and Medicare Advantage plan members, which includes the launch of four new plans – Blue Shield Inspire (HMO), Blue Shield Inspire (HMO D-SNP), Blue Shield Inspire (PPO) and Blue Shield Medicare Supplement Plan G Inspire.

Blue Shield’s new Medicare Supplement Plan G Inspire will provide all the benefits of Medicare Supplement Plan G plus additional health services such as:

  • Hearing aid benefit including an annual routine hearing test.
  • Vision benefit including coverage for eye exams and either eyeglass frames and lenses or contact lenses.
  • Physician consultation benefit offering 24/7/365 access that’s available by phone or video via computer or mobile app.
  • Over-the-counter items benefit offering a quarterly allowance for items such as cold and allergy medicines, first-aid supplies, pain relievers and more.
  • SilverSneakers fitness benefit at no extra cost, including tools for overall wellness by phone, online, or in-person support[ii].

All members of Medicare Supplement Plan G Inspire and qualifying members of Blue Shield Inspire Medicare Advantage plans[iii] will also have access to independence and safe mobility benefits that include[iv]:

  • Classic AAA Membership[v] – a one-year membership with 24/7 AAA roadside assistance.
  • AAA Roadwise Driver – a course designed to help older adults refine their driving skills to become safer drivers.
  • Educational Driving Resources – with a dedicated website containing resources and advice for drivers, such as AAA Roadwise Rx[vi] – a tool designed to help members learn more about their medications and how they may affect their driving.

What are the most common mistakes made when shopping for a Medicare plan?

Here are some common missteps that people can avoid when it’s time to shop for a Medicare plan.

  • Not signing up for Medicare at the right time. As you approach 65, you’ll want to enroll during what the government calls your initial enrollment period (IEP). This period begins three months before the month in which you turn 65 and lasts until three months after.
  • Not understanding your out-of-pocket costs. Although Medicare covers most medical costs for its enrollees, they may need to also pay for out-of-pocket costs.
  • Choosing a Medicare Advantage plan whose network doesn't include your health care providers.
  • Choosing drug coverage that doesn't fully and affordably cover your prescriptions that you need.

Choosing the right health plan is important in any stage of life and we are here to help. As a nonprofit health plan, our north star is to ensure all Californians have health care that is worthy of our family and friends and sustainably affordable, and that’s especially true for our Medicare plan members.


[i] Benefits vary by plan and by service area. Refer to for complete details.

[ii] Benefits vary by plan and by service area. Refer to for complete details.

[iii] Effective January 1, 2021, available in select counties in Northern California.

[iv] Blue Shield Inspire's Special Supplemental Benefit for the Chronically Ill (SSBCI) requires eligibility determination. You must have one or more qualifying chronic conditions to receive this benefit. To determine eligibility for the SSBCI, Blue Shield Inspire members whose effective date of enrollment in the plan is January 1, 2021 or later must complete an Attestation Form and submit it to the plan. For members whose effective date of enrollment in Blue Shield Inspire is prior to January 1, 2021, Blue Shield will review member data to determine eligibility and will notify members of their eligibility. Please see the plan EOC for additional details.

[v] One year new or renewal Classic AAA Membership in 2021 valued at up to $56/year. AAA Membership provided by AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah.

[vi] This tool is intended to provide users with general information to help them better understand the traffic safety implications of using certain medications before driving. The information is not medical advice. Consult with your doctor before altering any medications or driving, or if you have specific medical questions or think you may be suffering from any medical condition.

Blue Shield Inspire (HMO) is only available in the following counties: Alameda, Fresno, Madera, Merced, Sacramento, Santa Clara, San Joaquin, San Mateo, and Stanislaus.

Blue Shield Inspire (HMO D-SNP) is only available in the following counites: Fresno, San Joaquin, and Stanislaus.

Blue Shield Inspire (PPO) is only available in the following county: Alameda.

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