It's that time of year: Medicare open enrollment officially began on Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 7. This is the one chance beneficiaries have to review coverage plan and make changes for the year ahead. What does this mean for you, or for family members on Medicare?
During open enrollment, you may:
- Switch to a Medicare Advantage plan,
- Switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another,
- Drop your Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare, or
- Join a Medicare Prescription Drug plan, change to a new one, or drop your coverage.
Even if you are satisfied with your current coverage, it's always a good idea to review your plan to make sure you are getting the most out of your Medicare.
Not sure how to get started? Just follow the four "Cs" — coverage, cost, convenience, and customer satisfaction.
1. Coverage: Comparing Medicare plans can be simple. Use the Medicare Plan Finder, a tool on the official Medicare website. This tool helps you find and compare all available plans in your area. When reviewing plans, focus on the benefits, such as the coverage offered if you fall into the prescription drug “doughnut hole”— the period during which you pay a higher share of your drug costs. Use AARP’s Doughnut Hole Calculator to see how this might affect you. Also, check the Medicare Plan Finder to see which drugs are covered.
If you need help comparing coverage options, call your local senior center or Council on Aging to make an appointment with a SHINE (Serving the Health Information Needs of Elders) counselor.
2. Cost: From year to year, your Medicare plan costs may change. During open enrollment, you should compare expenses, including premiums, deductibles, drug costs and out-of-pocket maximums.
3. Convenience: When it comes to doctor's appointments and filling prescriptions, convenience matters. When reviewing Medicare plans, find out if you will have access to your current doctor — or doctors close by. And, check that your local pharmacy accepts the plan, and that the plan provides online prescription-filling or mail order options.
4. Customer service: Have you ever wondered how your Medicare plan stacks up against others? When you are comparing plans, take note of Medicare's star-rating system. Medicare health and prescription drug plans are rated from one star ("poor") to five stars ("excellent") in different categories, such as responsiveness and care, member complaints and customer service.
After you've gone through the four "Cs," it's time for the "D" — decide. Once you compare coverage, cost, convenience, and customer service, you will be ready to make a well-researched decision to either change your plan or stay with the one you have.
Remember, it's important to review your options carefully. In some cases, if you drop your coverage, you may not be able to get it back. Also, if you miss the Dec. 7 deadline, you will have to wait until next fall's open enrollment period to switch to a different Medicare plan.
Get more information about Medicare open enrollment, or call 1-866-448-3621 and request a free copy of " Understanding Medicare" (pdf) (D19327).
This column appears in the current issue of PRIME, the monthly mature market magazine, and is reprinted here with permission. Linda F. Fitzgerald is the volunteer state president of AARP Massachusetts, which serves more than 800,000 members age 50 and older in the Bay State. Connect with AARP Massachusetts, become a fan on our Facebook page, or follow us on Twitter.