Council Post: Five Tips For Preparing For Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period

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Robert W. Bache (aka “Medicare Bob”) is founder and chief of sales for Senior Healthcare Directan AmeriLife company.

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Choosing the right healthcare plan is increasingly important as you get older. This is how I explain the process to clients so they can get the coverage they need.

It’s July, so like me, you’re probably focused on summer plans right now—booking trips, scheduling activities with family and gearing up for summer BBQs. But fall will be here in no time, and that means Medicare’s annual enrollment period is right around the corner.

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Medicare’s annual enrollment, or annual election period, starts October 15 and runs to December 7. You’ll know it’s here because all of a sudden you start seeing TV commercials during the evening news from insurance companies that want your business.

So what is it, exactly? Annual enrollment is when Medicare beneficiaries can compare their current healthcare plan to other existing plans—plus brand-new plans—and switch things up if they want to for the next 12 months. For instance, during this time you can switch from Original Medicare (Parts A and B) to Medicare Advantage (or vice versa) or stay with Original Medicare and purchase a Medigap policy to supplement your coverage. You may also change your Medicare Advantage or Part D Drug plan (in addition to the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period from January 1 to March 31).

It’s good to shop around and compare plans because you might be able to save money on your prescription drugs or on co-pays. This is one of the major reasons that in a survey of more than 3,000 seniors conducted by Deft Research, some 44% shopped for a new plan during annual enrollment in 2020.

Working in this industry, I’ve been through a lot of open enrollments over the years, and I’ve learned a bit about how to make the process a smooth and successful one. Based on my experience, these are five tips I want to share to help you prepare for this year’s Medicare annual enrollment period.

Look Out For Your ANOC

Every year, insurance companies have to send their members a Plan Annual Notice of Change, or ANOC, which outlines plan changes for the coming year. This comes by US mail or e-mail, and it can easily be mistaken for junk or land in your spam folder. Keep an eye out for it, and when you get it, read it thoroughly. Possible changes could include your insurance company raising your co-pay, changing your premium, no longer covering your doctor, and including or excluding extras like dental, vision and hearing coverage. Your plan might also be terminated entirely—it’s rare, but it can happen.

Know Your Dates

With everything you’ve got going on, it’s easy to forget when you’re supposed to do what with your Medicare plan. Open enrollment dates are the same every year, so mark your calendar. Here’s how it works: New plans get released on October 1, October 15 is the first day you can make a change to your plan, and December 7 is the deadline to make a selection. Don’t wait until the last day to get it done. If you do, you might not get your ID card until well into February. Start your research early and make an educated, informed decision.

Work With A Broker

A Medicare broker represents multiple insurance companies and can help you compare and contrast plans, find the best one for you, then enroll you in the option you choose. This service is free to you, and it can be helpful to work with an experienced broker since many of the Medicare plans can look very similar at first glance; experts will help ensure you do not make a mistake.

The alternative is the time-consuming task of calling individual insurance companies on your own to learn more. I’ve seen seniors who go it alone change insurance providers multiple times during open enrollment as they receive and consider information about the various plans piecemeal. That can be stressful. When you work with a broker, you avoid some of the stress.

Be Ready With The Right Questions

Before you start working with a broker, take the time to sit down and write out everything you want and need in a healthcare plan. For example, make a list of the doctors you need to see and the hospitals you regularly go to. Write out all the medications you take that you need to be covered. Then have that list handy when you talk with the broker. The broker will be able to help you zero in on a plan that covers your doctors, hospitals and all of your drugs. In addition, you’ll learn which plans include extras, like vision and dental, if you need them. Arming yourself in advance with a wants-and-needs list, as well as all your questions, will help you keep your conversation with the broker focused and time-efficient.

Understand The Logistics Of Enrolling

Based on the questions you ask and the information the broker shares, you may decide it’s in your best interest to change your plan. For Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage plans, if you do change your plan, know that you don’t have to officially cancel your current plan first. When you make a new plan selection, it automatically overwrites your old plan. You also have several options when it comes to how to enroll in Medicare plans. You can meet face to face with an insurance representative who will help you with the paperwork, mail back the paperwork yourself, or you can enroll directly with a broker who will walk you through the process over the phone.

It’s normal to feel a little apprehensive about choosing your Medicare plan or changing your old plan for a new one. Anything involving your health is a big decision. Remember, though that you’re choosing a plan for the next 12 months. If you don’t like the service you’re getting or you find another plan with better savings and wider coverage, you can switch during the next Medicare annual enrollment period. So be confident that you’ve asked all the right questions to make an informed choice. Then go ahead and keep living your life.

The information provided here is not investment, tax or financial advice. You should consult with a licensed professional for advice concerning your specific situation.


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