Medicare open enrollment season is here

If you are a Medicare enrollee, you should know that open enrollment takes place from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, 2017. Any changes you make to your coverage will take effect on Jan. 1, 2018. Since your health care priorities are likely to change over time, you might find it beneficial to review and make alterations to how you structure your Medicare solution.

Reviewing your Medicare selections may help you either cut costs or improve coverage. For example, you may be able to:

• Choose coverage that keeps your preferred doctors and pharmacies “in-network,” where there are better controls on costs;

• Find a drug plan that will result in lower out-of-pocket expenses for the prescriptions that are key to your health strategy;

• Select a potentially superior plan that has earned a higher rating from Medicare’s five-star rating system. If your current plan is rated less than three stars, it may be time to make a switch.

Your options during open enrollment

The open enrollment period gives you an opportunity to change your base Medicare plan or your prescription drug coverage.

Change your base Medicare coverage

First, consider the type of plan you have:

• Traditional Medicare provided by the federal government, including Part A (hospital-related expenses) and Part B (health care services such as treatment from doctors).

• Medicare Advantage Plans, also known as Part C (coverage provided by private insurers rather than the government).

If you are enrolled in traditional Medicare (Parts A and B) and wish to change to a Medicare Advantage plan (Part C), you can do so during open enrollment. Likewise, you can switch from a Medicare Advantage plan to traditional Medicare coverage. This is also a period where you can move from a Medicare Advantage from one insurer to a Medicare Advantage plan offered by a different insurer.

Keep in mind that if you carry a Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plan, this open enrollment period does not allow for changes in those plans. There are other circumstances that must occur to allow you to choose a different Medigap plan. Visit Medicare.gov for details.

Change your prescription drug coverage

If you are a Medicare enrollee who has not yet begun Part D (prescription drug) coverage, it can be added during the enrollment period. Another option is to switch from one Part D plan to another. If you’re covered under a Medicare Advantage plan that doesn’t have prescription drug coverage, you can switch to one that does. You should carefully review your current prescription needs to make certain that the plan you’ve selected provides the best coverage for the drugs you are prescribed.

Do your homework

As you explore your options, it will become evident that not all plans are equal, and there is no single form of Medicare coverage that is right for everyone. Today’s menu of Medicare choices gives you the opportunity to consider your own circumstances, the doctors and clinics you wish to access, and your prescription requirements. Check out the plan finder tool on Medicare’s website (https://www.medicare.gov/find-a-plan/questions/home.aspx). Or, contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program to obtain guidance on how to proceed with potential changes to your coverage.

Randy Groff, ChFC, CLU, CRPC, is a financial adviser with Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc., in Marshall.

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