4 Tips to Remember During Medicare Open Enrollment

Related topics: Legal & Financial

Medicare's annual Open Enrollment Period runs October 15 to December 7. During this time, people with Medicare can join or switch prescription drug (Part D) and health care (Medicare Advantage) plans.

Every year, there are slight changes to plans and coverages — and this year is no different.  According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the average costs for a basic prescription drug plan and a Medicare Advantage plan are expected to go up slightly.

Finding the right Medicare plan matters. With hundreds of policies to choose from — and so many details to understand — most people guess when choosing a policy. The result? Paying too much for a plan that doesn't cover what you need.

Before you start shopping, review these four tips, courtesy of the National Council on Aging (NCOA):

Tip 1: Be aware of enrollment periods.

Everyone who currently has Medicare should take advantage of the Open Enrollment Period to review their coverage. This is the one guaranteed time each year in which you can change plans.

New to Medicare? Know that you have special windows of time in which to select your coverage. If you're about to turn 65, you will have an Initial Enrollment Period around your 65th birthday. NCOA's educational service My Medicare Matters® offers a free Medicare QuickCheck™ that will provide you a personal report with your initial enrollment date.

If you're still working when you turn 65, you can delay enrollment in Parts A, B, and D if your insurance meets certain requirements. Find the rules here.

To avoid long-term penalties, make sure you know what you have to choose — and by when.

Tip 2: Don't guess when picking coverage.

Choosing a Medicare plan — whether for the first or 15th time — is too important to leave to guesswork. Take the time to review your health insurance needs before every enrollment period. Think about:

  • Do you have health insurance from another source?
  • Do you have any chronic conditions?
  • Which doctors and hospitals do you use?
  • Which prescriptions do you need and what pharmacies do you get them from?

Tip 3: Check your policy every year.

Insurance companies can make changes to policies every year. Just because your doctors and medications are covered this year doesn't automatically mean they will be covered in the coming year. Make sure to confirm cost, co-pays, coinsurance, covered providers and prescription drugs. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Has your health changed in the last year?
  • How much have you paid out of pocket in the last year — and for what?
  • Is your current plan still meeting all of these needs?

Medicare's Plan Finder can help you assess the costs of different plans in your area.

Tip 4: See if you qualify for extra help with Medicare costs.

There are programs that can help people who are struggling to pay for their prescriptions and health insurance premiums, deductibles, and coinsurance. NCOA offers a free online BenefitsCheckUp® where you can see if you’re eligible for help. Or, contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) to see what’s available to you.

Be a Smart Shopper

Navigating the Medicare maze is challenging — especially when you're bombarded with sales pitches. But by being informed, you can be a smart shopper.

Use these tips to get started. And get free, trusted, personal assistance at NCOA's MyMedicareMatters.org.  

Source: The National Council on Aging (www.ncoa.org) is a nonprofit service and advocacy organization whose mission is to improve the lives of millions of older adults, especially those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged. NCOA is a national voice for older Americans and the community organizations that serve them and works with thousands of organizations across the country to help seniors find jobs and benefits, improve their health, live independently and remain active in their communities.

Once you've made your Open Enrollment decisions, take a coffee break and have some fun with the "Medicare Wordfind." Read on to the next article to download your copy of the puzzle.