Why Medicare Open Enrollment Is So Important

Why Medicare Open Enrollment Is So Important

From October to December each year, open enrollment is incredibly important. This two-month period gives adults age 65 and older the chance to make changes to their Medicare coverage.

However, if you miss open enrollment, you’ll face serious penalties or be stuck with coverage that doesn’t suit your needs. Here’s why you can’t miss the limited open enrollment period for Medicare.

Open Enrollment Is the Only Time You Can Change Your Medicare Coverage

The number one reason it’s important that all seniors to pay attention to open enrollment? If you don’t take any action during open enrollment, you won’t have another chance to change your Medicare coverage for a full year.

Open enrollment begins on October 15 every year and runs until December 7. During this period, you’ll want to assess your current Medicare coverage and determine whether or not you need to make changes. If you fail to change your plan and realize you need to do so later, you’ll either have to pay to make those changes or you’ll be blocked from doing so until it’s allowed.

During open enrollment, you can change:

  • Part D coverage (your prescription drug coverage)
  • Medicare Advantage Plans (or Part C plans)
  • Medigap plans
  • Enrollment in supplemental insurance plans

Your Medicare Coverage Is Likely Changing

In addition to making your own changes, Medicare coverage changes slightly from year to year. Insurance coverage will change, and sometimes you’ll find your plan now covers more or less than it previously did. And for the year ahead, Medicare is changing once again – particularly for those enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans.

As PBS reports, Medicare Advantage plans are expanding in coverage for 2019, and these private insurance plans will now be able to cover some non-medical benefits and offer new types of plans. Options like home safety equipment, dietary needs, and transportation to doctor’s appointments may now be covered under Advantage plans.

Unfortunately, PBS also notes that these changes won’t be adopted by all Advantage plans or providers. As these changes roll out over the next two years, Medicare Advantage subscribers will need to check their coverage and plans to determine what’s covered and whether or not the changes are ones you benefit from. And if that coverage doesn’t meet your needs, you’ll need to make changes before open enrollment ends.

Check to see what changes are happening to your coverage. Insurers are required to mail subscribers a notification of any changes, so it’s important to look into these updates during open enrollment so you can adjust as needed before it’s too late.

You Can’t Sign Up for Medicare Advantage Plans Once Open Enrollment Ends

Medicare Advantage plans are particularly tied to open enrollment. These plans, which are offered by private insurance companies, supplement your Medicare coverage and offer benefits far beyond Parts A and B (or original Medicare).

Advantage plans can cover so much more than basic Medicare. From dental and vision coverage to smaller copays and lower prescription drug costs, there can be plenty of benefits to an Advantage plan.

If you think you’re going to need more comprehensive coverage or want to limit your out-of-pocket costs by choosing a private health insurance plan, you need to do your research during open enrollment. Look into different Advantage plans, their costs, and their coverage options. If you decide you want to sign up for one, or want to change your current plan or provider, you’ll need to do so before December 7.

As Health writes, seniors can only enroll in or make changes to Medicare Advantage plans during open enrollment. Miss this window and you’ll be unable to change your Advantage policy unless you’ve lost employer health insurance, moved, or had another significant life change.

Open Enrollment Is the Perfect Time to Comparison Shop

Lastly, one of the biggest benefits of the open enrollment period each year is it gives seniors the opportunity to examine their current Medicare coverage, consider new options and changes, and update their plans to ensure they’re fully covered.

In order to ensure your Medicare coverage meets your health and financial needs, you should use the open enrollment period to compare your options.

Here are some tips to help you start considering what changes you want to make to your current coverage:

  1. Checking your current Part D or Advantage plan. Do you currently carry one? Will you need one in the year ahead? Did your current coverage meet your needs last year?
  2. Look at which plans are being offered on the Medicare website. The Medicare.gov plan finder tool will allow you to compare your current coverage to other available options.
  3. Search online for plans with more flexible coverage, lower premiums, and lower copays. Compare these plans to the coverage offered by your current Advantage or Part D plan.
  4. Consider private insurance plans offered outside of the government’s options. Compare pricing and coverage limits.

When you’re comparing different plans and options to enhance or increase your Medicare coverage, don’t forget to consider all of the costs involved. Look at both the monthly premium price, any copay amounts you’ll have to pay during doctor’s appointments, and any limits or maximums on prescription drugs or procedures. These costs can add up quickly, and a specific Part D or Advantage plan may not be a wise financial investment if it costs you more overall.

Ultimately, while it can be challenging to research and comparison shop, it’s incredibly important to do your homework. There are plenty of Medicare open enrollment resources online, and a single search can reveal different plans and different options – giving you better coverage for your health needs in the year ahead. If you’ve considered all of the changes and new Medicare options, you’ll be able to adjust your insurance accordingly during open enrollment without missing a beat.