HERE'S HOW TO PREPARE FOR A SUCCESSFUL MEDICARE ANNUAL ENROLLMENT
“Medicare Annual Enrollment is from October 15 – December 7. Follow these tips to ensure you’re not paying too much or missing out on necessary benefits.”
Did you know Medicare plans change each year? And while you may be happy with your current coverage, you could end up paying more than you need or missing out on important benefits.
It's important you review these changes annually before the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period begins to ensure that doesn't happen.
In this blog post, we outline the steps you should take to prepare for a successful Fall enrollment. But first, let's talk about what this enrollment period is all about.
WHAT IS MEDICARE ANNUAL ENROLLMENT?
Sometimes called Medicare's Annual Election Period (AEP) or Medicare open enrollment, this enrollment period is an annual time when Medicare members can add, drop or switch plans.
More specifically, during this enrollment period, Medicare beneficiaries can:
- Drop their Original Medicare (Parts A &B) plan and pick up a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan
- Drop their Medicare Advantage plan and pick up an Original Medicare plan
- Switch Medicare Advantage plans
- Join, drop or switch prescription drug plans (Part D)
The only other times you can make changes to your Medicare plans are during your Initial Enrollment Period (three months before and after your 65th birthday) or if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.
The Medicare Annual Enrollment Period is sometimes confused with annual enrollment for Obamacare’s Marketplace. While the two enrollment periods may overlap, it's important to understand that they are not related.
Most seniors over the age of 65 should not concern themselves with the health insurance marketplaces or their open enrollments. In fact, it's illegal for someone to knowingly sell you a Marketplace plan if you have Medicare.
Medicare annual enrollment dates to remember:
- October 15 - December 7: Medicare Annual Enrollment Period
- January 1: Coverage begins and changes implemented
- January 1 – March 31: Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period
HOW IS AEP DIFFERENT FROM OEP?
As mentioned before, sometimes AEP is also referred to as Medicare open enrollment, when in fact there is an entirely separate Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (OEP) that happens every year between January 1 and March 31.
Starting in 2019 this open enrollment replaced Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period (January 1 – February 14).
During this period, Medicare Advantage members can make one of the below changes:
- Switch to another Medicare Advantage Plan
- Disenroll from a Medicare Advantage Plan and go back to Original Medicare, you would have until March 31 to join a separate Medicare prescription drug plan to add prescription coverage.
Now that you know the basics about annual enrollment, let’s talk about how to prepare for it.
3 STEPS TO PREPARING FOR MEDICARE ANNUAL ENROLLMENT PERIOD
While annual enrollment doesn’t start until October 15, Medicare.gov releases its annual “Medicare & You” handbook on October 1. Starting the same day, you’ll have access to the site’s Medicare Plan Finder where you can search current Medicare Plans.
This means you don’t have to (and you shouldn’t) wait until October 15 to prepare. In fact, you should start with the first step below as early as September.
STEP 1: ASSESSMENT
Sometime in September your plan should send you an Annual Notice of Change (ANOC). Before you review this document, it’s important to assess your needs.
A lot can change in a year. Knowing where you stand coming into a new year will help you make the right decisions. Here’s what you should know:
How’s your overall health?
- Has your health status changed at all?
- Did you struggle to get the care you needed this year or the quality you expected?
- Are you visiting the doctor more or less than you anticipated?
If your health has gotten worse or you had difficulty getting the care you needed this year, you may benefit from a more comprehensive Medicare plan.
Yet, if your health has gotten better and you visited the doctor less than you anticipated, you may benefit from a less comprehensive Medicare plan.
Are you comfortable with your healthcare costs?
- Have your financial circumstances changed?
- Are you dishing out more co-pays or deductibles that you didn’t expect?
- Do you have difficulty meeting your premiums?
If you’re uncomfortable with your healthcare costs, you have options. Focus on choosing a Medicare plan that has cheaper premiums but still covers the benefits you need. Or consider purchasing a Medicare Supplement plan to cover the out-of-pocket costs.
Has your flexibility changed?
- Will you be traveling more or less than you did?
- Do you have plans to move?
- Do you need to change doctors or specialists for any reason?
Different Medicare plans offer different flexibility options. For example, some offer benefits to those traveling internationally and some are state-specific. Knowing your flexibility needs will help you choose the right plan.
Are you happy with your prescription drug benefits?
- Have you started or stopped any medications?
- Did you have to dish out more than you expected on prescriptions?
If you were unable to cover the cost of your medications, you should consider purchasing a prescription drug plan or (if you already have one) changing drug plans.
After you’ve assessed your needs, you’re ready to review your plans.
STEP 2: REVIEW
As previously mentioned, Medicare plans change. Fortunately, you should receive your insurer’s new plan documents sometime in September. These documents include the Evidence of Coverage (EOC) and Annual Notice of Change (ANOC).
Review these documents closely to understand what changes are being made and whether the plan will continue to meet your needs in the next year.
This is also a good time to review the “Medicare & You” handbook. This document includes important information regarding things like the enrollment process, your coverage options and your rights.
At this time, you may decide that you are in fact happy with your plan(s). If that’s that case, feel free to kick back and relax. You don’t have to take any action to keep your current plan(s).
Yet, if you think your plan won’t continue to meet your needs then you should consider your other options.
STEP 3: Compare
Since you’ve reviewed your current plan(s) and have an idea of how the changes may affect your needs, you’re ready to start comparing your options.
The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) lists several resources to help when comparing options.
- View a listing of plans in your area using Medicare.gov’s Medicare Plan Finder. Remember, this tool is updated on October 1.
- Refer back to the “Medicare & You” handbook to ensure you fully understand your options.
- Call 1-800-Medicare (1-800-633-4227) to speak with an agent 24/7.
- Get free, personalized health insurance counseling by contacting your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP).
For more information on what to do when you’re unhappy with your Medicare coverage, check out our detailed guide. This document is especially useful if you’re considering meeting your needs by purchasing or switching Medicare Supplement plans.
READY. SET. GO.
If you don’t elect to make any changes to your Medicare plan during the enrollment period you could be stuck with inadequate or costly coverage for the next year.
That’s why you should assess your needs, review your coverage and compare your options before Medicare Open Enrollment begins.
By completing this annual Medicare review you’ll be ready to make the right decisions.
Want more advice on preparing for Medicare Open Enrollment? Give us a call at 844.847.3800 to speak with a licensed insurance specialist.