Remember, Medicare choices aren’t evergreen! Act before December 7th.
Many people mistakenly believe that they only need to take one action related to Medicare: sign up when they become eligible. While that minimal approach will keep you enrolled, it overlooks the fact that your medical and life situation changes every year. Just because a certain combination of coverage options worked for you in the past doesn’t mean it’s financially smart going forward!
Annual Enrollment Period: facts and dates
The Medicare Annual Enrollment Period begins on October 15th and closes on December 7th for the coverage that will begin on January 1st.
During that time, you can take several actions, including:
- Switch from Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage) to Original Medicare;
- Switch from Original Medicare (Parts A and B) to Medicare Advantage;
- Switch between Medicare Advantage Plans; and,
- Join, drop, or change your Medicare Part D (prescription drug) coverage.
Who should take action?
Everyone who is enrolled in Medicare should review their coverage annually. However, certain life situations call for extra attention and special consideration.
If Original Medicare (Parts A and B) are no longer meeting your needs, this is a good time to consider Medicare Advantage that offers similar coverage through a Medicare-approved network of private healthcare providers. Some Medicare Advantage plans include prescription drug coverage.
If you are already enrolled in Medicare Advantage, you should know that plan premiums, deductibles, benefits, and coverage may change from year to year. Be sure to review the plan update letter that you received in the mail to understand what’s different for the year ahead. If your prescription drug needs have changed, double-check that the coverage you have under Medicare Advantage is still adequate. That way, you can confirm that next year’s plan is still a good fit for you, medically and financially.
If your current Medicare Advantage plan doesn’t meet your needs for the upcoming year, you have the option of switching to a different Medicare Advantage plan or going back to Original Medicare. Medicare.gov provides an online tool to help you research your options and compare plans.
Medicare Part D presents a similar challenge. Different plans offer a variety of premium levels and coverage options. As your needs change it may make sense to re-evaluate your choices.
Common mistakes during Annual Enrollment Period
Medicare can be confusing, and it’s no wonder that people make mistakes. Failing to review plan coverage and the changes in your financial situation is an obvious one, but there are other potential missteps to watch out for.
- If you are switching from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare, be sure that you have carefully considered whether you need Medigap (most people do, because relying on just Medicare Parts A and B can expose you to large deductibles). With the exception of a brief 6-month Medigap open enrollment period, insurance companies are allowed to use medical underwriting in assessing your eligibility (and premium) for a Medigap policy. If you know you will need Medigap, be certain that you can get the policy and that its premium is financially reasonable – before you take the leap.
- If you have Medicare Part D, don’t switch plans just because your spouse/friend/family member is pleased with their choice. Everyone’s situation is different. A plan that’s an excellent fit for your best friend may be terrible for you. Make a list of your current prescriptions, talk to your doctor to understand your needs for the year ahead, and spend some time doing your own research on Medicare Part D plans.
- If you are currently enrolled in Medicare Advantage without prescription drug coverage (or with prescription coverage that isn’t sufficient for your situation), don’t enroll in stand-alone Medicare Part D coverage. That can cause you to be dropped from Medicare Advantage and put into Original Medicare (Parts A and B). Look for a different Medicare Advantage plan with better drug coverage instead.
Extra! Extra! New Open Enrollment Period for Medicare Advantage coming in 2019.
Everyone who is enrolled in Medicare should review his or her coverage now and make any necessary changes before December 7th. It is worth noting that there will be another opportunity to make a change to Medicare Advantage coverage in early 2019. Per the 21st Century Cures Act, the new Open Enrollment Period (OEP) for Medicare Advantage will allow individuals to switch their Medicare Advantage plans or go back to Original Medicare between January 1st and March 31st. However, the changes you will be able to make during the new OEP are limited compared to the options available right now. So, don’t procrastinate! Talk to your doctor and financial planner and take proactive steps to manage your healthcare expenses in 2019!
Image credit: Shutterstock standard license