Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period (AEP), often referred to as Open Enrollment, begins October 15th each year.
Each year Medicare health and drug plans can make changes to cost (premiums), coverage provided as well as providers and pharmacies in their networks. And AEP is the period when millions of people with Medicare can generally change their Medicare health plans and prescription drug coverage for the following year.
The following are some tips to help consumers find the best plan options and costs.
Some 22 million individuals have coverage through a Medicare Advantage plan. That’s roughly a third of the total Medicare eligible population. In some states like California and Oregon, as many as 40-to-42 percent of all Medicare eligibles have a Medicare Advantage plan. In Alaska, it’s only one percent and only three percent in Wyoming.
Today, many Medicare Advantage plans offer a zero plan cost and multiple additional benefits all of which sounds great. However, they may have a high deductible that can cost thousands of dollars should you have a hospital stay.
If you are choosing a Medicare Advantage plan or considering a switch during AEP, it is important to understand the complete package and potential costs you may face.
Some 15 million individuals have selected a Medicare Supplement insurance plan, also commonly called Medigap. These plans offer a variety of options, identified with alphabet letters, like A, C, G and N.
According to the American Association for Medicare Supplement Insurance’s 2020 Medicare Insurance Price Index there can be a wide variation for Medigap insurance prices. The AAMSI index is a valuable resource for consumers wanting to know the lowest and highest prices for nearly 100 leading cities across the U.S. Costs differences for Medigap Plan G, the most common choice among seniors turning age 65, can be significant. In Atlanta, just one of the cities cited, a 65-year-old woman might pay as little as $102-monthly or as much as $244-monthly for virtually identical Plan G insurance coverage.
Another important thing to know is that some plans offer household discounts. The potential savings can be as high as 14 percent. For those considering Medigap plan coverage, ask for the company’s history of premium rate increases. This can be a valuable indication of what one might expect down the road.
The Medicare.gov website is an outstanding resource for consumers. However, experts note that it can be overwhelming to navigate and there are some important things the government doesn’t tell you. The AAMSI website contains 18 things every consumer should know that the Medicare.gov website might not clearly explain.
Some of the best sources of information are local insurance agents who specialize in helping seniors compare plan options and prices. Betters ones will know which health and medical professionals participate in the various programs and what fellow area residents have to say about the particular plan.
A directory of Medicare insurance agents can be accessed online. Unlike other websites that are looking to gather your information for future marketing, this directory is available free of charge and completely private to use.
Medicare’s annual AEP lasts only a few weeks, concluding on December 7th. With some 61 million Americans on Medicare, it is important to act early during the time period. Waiting could be a costly mistake.
Jesse Slome is director of the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance as well as the American Association for Medicare Supplement Insurance. These organizations advocate for the importance of planning and provide meaningful information to help consumers as well as insurance professionals.