Medicare open enrollment is currently underway from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 of this year. This means that if you want to change your coverage or add a supplemental insurance plan, this is the time to do it. All new insurance policies take effect on Jan. 1, 2018. But, before they do, you have some time to learn about the different options and pick the one that works best for you.
During open enrollment, you can either join a new Medicare Advantage Plan or add on a stand-alone prescription drug plan (Medicare Part D). If you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan already, you have the option of switching to Original Medicare if you no longer need everything that plan offers. Wondering what exactly you should do when open enrollment for Medicare begins? Here are some essential steps to take:
If you’re confused about the different terms being tossed around during this period or are unsure about what something means, this is the time for you to do some research and learn more about the different plans and terms used to describe Medicare options.
Medicare Advantage Plans are health insurance plans that are required by law to cover the benefits of Original Medicare Parts A and B. They also often offer extra coverage, such as prescription drug plans and dental, vision or hearing benefits. Medicare Advantage is administered privately. Although you will still get all of the coverage that Medicare Parts A and B offer, it will go through a private insurance company instead of the government. Medicare Part B premiums will still be paid to the state. Also, hospice care will be administered by the federal government if it is included in the policy.
Medicare Part D is a Medicare policy that subsidizes the cost of prescription drugs, which may be necessary if you have a condition that requires you to buy expensive prescriptions often. It can be purchased as a stand-alone policy, combined with Original Medicare or included in your Medicare Advantage plan. Most of the time, you can mix and match depending on what your other medical insurance needs are.
Original Medicare encompasses two policies: Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B. These offer different benefits with different deductibles, premiums, and copayments. For each plan, you will have to pay a deductible for your health care costs. This deductible is a minimum amount that you need to pay before the government covers the rest. For Medicare Part B, you also need to pay monthly premiums. For both kinds of plans, it’s common for you to have a copayment for health treatment once your deductible is paid.
Supplemental plans (also known as Medigap) cover the out-of-pocket costs that you may have to pay if you have Original Medicare. Some examples include cosmetic surgery, foreign health care, hearing aids and exams, long-term care, most eyeglasses, dental care, and dentures. You can buy these plans from private insurance companies. Any costs incurred that aren’t covered by Medicare are automatically forwarded to your Medigap policy.
Which plan you choose, and thus how much you pay, will depend on your individual medical needs. For example, if you expect that you will be spending a lot out of pocket for prescription drugs in the upcoming year, you should consider enrolling in a Medicare Part D or Medicare Advantage plan that covers prescription drugs. If you plan to travel a lot and want an insurance plan that includes health care you receive abroad, Medicare Advantage might be the best choice for you.
There are many different policies offered that all cover various types of benefits at varying costs. As such, make sure to consider the overall price of each and which services you need the most. Because there are so many options, compare each carefully. In other words, shop around. Don’t just find the first policy you think looks right for you and stick with it — think critically, and look for something better and cheaper.
You have all the way until Dec. 7 to make a decision, so take your time. Start doing research now, and don’t leave the application until the last minute. This way you can be sure that you’re making the choice that’s right for you (and not just made under pressure).
However, if you do make a decision that you’re unhappy with later, you do have a chance to change it. From Jan. 1 to Feb. 15, you can switch out of a Medicare Advantage plan and back to an Original Medicare plan if you regret signing up with the former during open enrollment.
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