Mark your calendars: Medicare open enrollment, officially called the Annual Election Period, ends in less than a month, on December 7. Whether you have original Medicare, Medicare Advantage or a prescription drug plan through Medicare Part D, now is the time to make sure you or your loved one has the right plan for the year ahead.
“A lot can happen in a year,” says Linda F. Fitzgerald, state president of AARP Massachusetts, which represents more than 800,000 members age 50 and older in the commonwealth. “You may have been diagnosed with a new medical condition, changed medications, or moved. There may also be changes to your Medicare plan. Now is the time to take a close look at your medical needs – including prescription drugs – and make sure you have the Medicare plan that’s best for you.”
During Medicare open enrollment, the Annual Election Period, people in Medicare should check their current Medicare plan, and, if necessary, switch to another plan. For example, a person might change from a Medicare Advantage plan back to Original Medicare, switch Medicare Advantage plans, or join a prescription drug plan.
Not sure where to start? Try following the four “C’s”: coverage, cost, convenience, and customer satisfaction.
- Coverage: Comparing Medicare plans can be simple. The official Medicare website has a tool at www.Medicare.go/find-a-plan that helps you compare all of the plans available in your area. When reviewing plans, focus on the benefits, such as coverage offered while in the prescription drug coverage gap, or “doughnut hole.” Also, find out which drugs are covered.
- Cost: From year to year, Medicare plan costs may change. During open enrollment, compare all of the costs, including premiums, deductibles, drug costs, and out-of-pocket maximums.
- Convenience: When it comes to going to doctor’s appointments and filling prescriptions, convenience matters. When reviewing Medicare plans, find out if access will be available to your doctors, or doctors nearby. And, check that the local pharmacy accepts the plan, and that the plan provides online prescription-filling or mail-order options.
- Customer service: When comparing plans, take note of Medicare’s star-rating system. Medicare health and prescription drug plans are rated on how they perform in different categories, such as responsiveness and care, member complaints and customer service. A plan may rate between one star (“poor”) and five stars (“excellent”).
After reviewing the four “C’s,” it is time for the “D” – decide. Keep in mind: Even if your current Medicare plan has worked well, it is wise to evaluate the options since the open enrollment period is the one and only time each year when people in Medicare may switch plans.
For further assistance, Massachusetts residents who need help figuring out their Medicare options should contact SHINE (Serving the Health Information Needs of Elders), a free program that provides insurance counseling. Call toll-free 1-800-AGE-INFO (1-800-243-4636) or contact the local Council on Aging or Senior Center.
For a free copy of AARP’s free guide, Understanding Medicare, visit www.aarp.org/ma or call 1-866-448-3621 (reference the publication title and D19327).