It is that time of year to reexamine your Medicare coverage to determine if you like what you have or need to make changes. Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period (OEP), during which you can enroll in or switch plans, runs from October 15 to December 7 every year, so now is the time to review your options to determine if switching plans could save you money and to determine if your coverage will continue to meet your needs.
During this period Medicare eligible people may enroll in a Medicare Part D (prescription drug) plan or, if you currently have a plan, you may change plans. This is an important consideration since each year insurance plans have the option to change which drugs they cover. What was covered during the immediate past year may no longer be covered. Also during the seven-week OEP you can return to traditional Medicare (Parts A and B) from a Medicare Advantage (Part C, managed care) plan, enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, or change from one to a different Advantage plans. While beneficiaries can go to http://www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) to make changes in their Medicare prescription drug and health plan coverage, a terrific resource to determine the available options is the State Health Insurance Program operated by local aging and disability resource centers. Counselors can provide unbiased assistance in helping you maneuver through the maze of options.
Even beneficiaries who were satisfied with their plans in 2016 need to review their choices for 2017. Be sure to carefully review the plan’s “Annual Notice of Change” letter that you should receive. Prescription drug plans can change their premiums, deductibles, the list of drugs they cover, and their plan rules for covered drugs, exceptions, and appeals. Medicare Advantage plans can change their benefit packages, as well as their provider networks.
As an example of how drastically coverage can change year to year, Avalere Health, a consulting and research firm, reports that premiums for the 10 most popular drug plans will rise an average of 4 percent next year. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the average Medicare Advantage premium is expected to decrease from $32.59 on average in 2016 to $31.40 in 2017.
This is a time when you will see advertisements all over television offering help with open enrollment. Understand that these companies are advertising to sell you their product. While their product may be what you want, it might not be, and you should not make a decision about that coverage without knowing all of the options available to you. Also remember that people who are perpetrators of fraud will inevitably use the open enrollment period to try to gain access to individuals’ personal financial information. Medicare beneficiaries should never give their personal information out to anyone making unsolicited phone calls selling Medicare-related products or services or showing up on their doorstep uninvited. If you think you’ve been a victim of fraud or identity theft, contact Medicare. For more information on Medicare fraud, click here or here.
Some resources to help you navigate open enrollment include:
The 2017 Medicare & You handbook, which all Medicare beneficiaries should have received. The handbook can also be downloaded online at here.
The Medicare Rights Center provides good educational materials to help.
You can find the State Health Insurance Assistance Program that serves your area here.
The online Medicare Plan Finder can be located here.