Home / Health / Join or cry: Deadline for Medicare open enrollment is Dec. 7

Join or cry: Deadline for Medicare open enrollment is Dec. 7

If you’ve been putting off making changes to your Medicare coverage, now’s the time to take action.

The annual open enrollment for the federal health plan ends on Dec. 7 — which means the countdown is officially on for any beneficiaries who’d like to update their current insurance for 2018. It’s one of the few times you can do so during the year without incurring a penalty.

If you’re already enrolled in Medicare, you should have received a letter from your insurance provider by now explaining any changes being made to your current plan for 2018. It’s called your Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) and should have been mailed out by the end of September.

“It’s really important to look at those details for two reasons,” says Fred Riccardi, director of client services for the Medicare Rights Center, a non-profit that helps people access affordable health care.

“One is your coverage may change and so you’ll want to make sure the medications that you’re taking are still covered in the new year and also check the cost associated with them. The second reason is because beneficiaries may be able to save money by comparing other plans, whether that’s with their premiums or the cost of their medications.”

When the time comes to comparison shop, there are a few different ways to go about it.

“One is to go online and use medicare.gov/planfinder,” Riccardi says. “Also, you can call 1-800-MEDICARE and speak to a representative. Or, use your local and national resources.”

Those would be in-person assistors, who can be found through State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs). In New York state, Medicare beneficiaries can access SHIP resources through the Health Insurance Information, Counseling and Assistance Program (HIICAP), which is operated by the New York State Office for the Aging (aging.ny.gov or 1-800-701-0501).

Whether you get help online, in person, or over the phone, there’s one piece of advice Juliette Cubanski, associate director of the program on Medicare Policy at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit organization that analyzes health policy, suggests you consider when comparing health coverage:

“Look beyond the monthly premium amount and at the specific features of the plans that you’re interested in or that you might be interested in,” she says.

Doing so can help prevent you from paying unexpected out-of-pocket expenses later if a specific drug, doctor, facility or service isn’t covered by your insurer.

The first major factor you’ll want to consider is whether you’d like to receive your health care through an Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage plan.

Of the one in five Americans enrolled right now in Medicare, approximately two-thirds opt to sign up for Original Medicare plans. This type of insurance policy breaks your coverage up into: Part A (in-patient hospital stays, skilled nursing facilities, hospice care and some home health visits); Part B (physician visits, preventative care services and some home health visits); and Part D (outpatient prescription drugs).

Still, an increasing number of Medicare-eligible individuals are choosing to enroll in Medicare Advantage plans, known as Part C.

Cubanski says that the Congressional Budget Office and the Medicare Trustees both predict the rate of Medicare beneficiaries who opt to join Advantage plans will increase in the years ahead.

Part of what makes these types of policies appealing — especially to Baby Boomers as they approach age 65, the point at which they become eligible to participate in Medicare — is that they bundle the different parts of Original Medicare into a single policy and coverage network.

It’s an increasingly popular insurance model younger beneficiaries are used to seeing, as it’s similar to the way current health care options, through either the Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplace or private insurance providers, are more often being offered.

But it does come with one major caveat beneficiaries don’t have to worry about in Original Medicare plans, Cubanski warns.

“I think perhaps some good advice for people who are considering this option is to be aware that Medicare Advantage Plans do have networks of providers, and if you see a provider who’s not in your plan’s network, you may face much higher out-of-pocket costs for your health care needs than if you stick within the provider’s network,” she says.

“It’s important for people to understand that those are two of the big differences, and to be aware of how it could affect their access to providers and the cost that they pay for the health care that they need,” Cubanski adds.

The majority of people making changes to their plans during open enrollment are either switching from an Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan (or vice versa), or else they’re keeping the Original Medicare policy and just changing to a different Part D prescription drug plan.

The good news there? “There will continue to be a variety of Part D and Medicare Advantage plans for people to consider,” he says.

Visit medicare.gov or health.ny.gov. for answers to frequently asked questions regarding open enrollment, compare insurance plans in your area, and sign up for coverage before the Dec. 7 deadline.

Affordable Care Act
open enrollment

Send a Letter to the Editor

Join the Conversation:

Health Rss

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *