Alexandria, Va. (WUSA9) --The change in health care across the country has plenty of side effects, but there is one in particular that may be affecting our retirees.

In our health alert, a local woman has a major change to her retiree health benefits. One that could cost her thousands of dollars every year.

69-year old old Ernestine Hicks of Alexandria retired from Pepco in 2008. She is covered by Medicare and Pepco provided her with prescription and doctor visit coverage.

A stage-4 breast cancer survivor. She relies heavily on this coverage.

Hicks says, "I got free health insurance and prescription insurance. When we retired, that is what we were supposed to have."

That will last only another month. Starting January 1st she will have to go through a private company to access her prescription and doctor benefits.The move will give her more options. But her costs will rise dramatically.

Hicks says, "It will require me to spend more money but the biggest change is the prescription insurance. Now I will have to spend 3 or 4 thousand dollars a year for my prescription insurance."

About 1/3rd of medicare beneficiaries get some type of supplemental coverage through their employer. But this is a trend that is on the decline says Jack Hoadley of Georgetown University. He notes arecent change that is causing more companies to drop this benefit.

Hoadley says, "In the Affordable Care Act there was a change made to the tax treatment subsidy which actually reduces the value of that subsidy."

Many companies have announced major changes to their retiree health benefits starting January 1st. Which could mean higher costs for individuals and families.

Hoadley says, "They can bring costs down for the company depending on how they implement the particular program they are doing. But they can also make their costs more predictable. "

But for people like Ernestine, the near future is not predictable at all. There is a chance that costs may eventually level off, but that doesn't help her now.

"I have to live now, what's gonna happen in the future doesn't help me pay for it in 2014," adds Hicks.

Experts say now is the time to take control of your costs. For retirees like Ernestine,extensively shoppingfor the best prescription coverage is key. Also, talk to your doctor, sometimesyou don't need as many medications, oryou can take advantage of generics that cost much less.

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