Open Enrollment for Medicare Advantage and Part D Prescription Drug plans began last week and will continue through December 7. As many seniors experience, this can be a daunting time with many questions and few answers. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are six tips that consumers should keep in mind as they research available plans and benefits.
1) Become an armchair expert.
While Medicare is certainly a confusing topic to many, the reality is it’s not rocket science. Yes there are decisions to be made, but if you break it down to the various parts, it’s much easier to understand than you might think at the outset. There are a lot of resources available online, so you can easily access most of what you need to know, and become familiar with the terminology and what the programs mean to you. Here’s a cheat sheet that may help.
2) Don’t get carried away.
Open Enrollment is relevant to people enrolled in Medicare Advantage and Part D prescription drug plans because they can change from one Medicare Advantage plan to another, or go back to Original Medicare, and/or switch to a different Part D plan during this time. A common misconception among seniors who have coverage through Original Medicare and Medicare Supplement insurance is that they need to consider a change during Open Enrollment. In fact, you don’t need to – and perhaps shouldn’t — make any changes. But you can always evaluate alternatives regularly to see if your plans are giving you the most benefits for your buck.
3) Start exploring.
Medicare Advantage plans may make changes to their provider networks from year to year, which may impact what doctors, hospitals or other providers you may access under the plan provisions. If you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, this is the time you will get your annual notice from your carrier describing what changes will be made to your plan effective January 1, 2015. These updates may also include changes to your co-pays, coinsurance, and other out-of-pocket costs. Part D plans may also implement premium increases, changes in covered drugs and new cost-sharing requirements. Remember you always have options, and it’s a good idea to explore other plans for the one that best fits your needs. After all, it’s your healthcare.
4) Do the math.
Consumers spend the majority of their time looking at premiums, but there’s more to it than that. Instead, examine how often you access providers. The frequency can add up to a lot of copays. For drug coverage, review the list of medications that are covered, and double-check that your current medications and any additional prescriptions you expect to take in the year ahead are covered. To look at your total out-of-pocket expenses with any provider, perform a thorough annual review of costs by downloading our free, interactive medical bill tracker.
5) Question authority.
Many consumers feel overwhelmed by all the “noise” and advertisements surrounding Open Enrollment. The best way to overcome this is to ask questions. Take out the emotion and dedicate time to becoming educated on the topic and options. Consumers can make phone calls with no obligation, so don’t be intimidated to reach out to various resources. Keep in mind that the more you talk about it, the more you’ll understand. Chances are very good that you will stumble upon a person who is really helpful.
6) Think long-term.
Speaking from my own experience, the older you get, the more serious the medical issues tend to be. Keep in mind that the healthier you are today, the less expensive your coverage will be today. So think about investing as much as you can now, so you’ll have the financial safety net you’ll want in the long run.
With more than a month left for Medicare Advantage and Part D Open Enrollment, use this time to educate yourself and make the best decision for your health and future.
Editor's Note: Bill Haynor is the Founder and CEO of SeniorQuote Insurance Services, Inc., a nationwide provider of Medicare-related products and services. Haynor holds more than 30 years of experience in the insurance and the financial services industries and personally knows the issues related to navigating through the confusing Medicare insurance market. To learn more visit http://www.seniorquote.com or contact Haynor here firstname.lastname@example.org.