The Medicare Annual Enrollment period starts Oct. 15 -- the time of year when youngsters are planning just who – or what -- they’re going to be for Halloween.
Come the 31st, little ghosts and goblins will be scurrying through neighborhoods getting their bags filled up with tasty treats. And if they get startled by some harmless tricksters along the way, that just adds to the fun.
Not so for some seniors, when it comes to Medicare coverage. It seems that many are scared stiff to make changes to their Medicare coverage. If you one of those folks who is intimidated by the all the options out there, take heart. Making some adjustments to your plan can be a good thing!
There’s no tricks involved, no magic potions -- just a little bit of homework that could potentially save you big bucks and maybe even a few headaches when changes take effect come Jan. 1, 2014.
Let’s take a closer look at what you can do.
Change to or from a Medicare Advantage Plan. With a Medicare Advantage plan (known as Part C), you normally pay a monthly premium and receive your original Medicare (Parts A & B) benefits through a private insurer. These plans typically give you some extra coverage (dental, prescriptions, etc.) and help you pay less out of pocket than if just went with original Medicare.
Since the coverage provided by these plans can vary widely, as can your annual out-of-pocket expenses, it pays to shop around (yes, that’s the point of this article!). On the down side, your choice of physicians may be restricted depending on the type of Medicare Advantage Plan you have. If choice of physicians is important to you, original Medicare paired with a Medicare Supplement product may be the right solution for you.
Switch from one Medicare Advantage Plan to another. Even if you already have a Medicare Advantage Plan, you may be able to find a better one. You could select a higher-rated plan or move to one that offers lower monthly premiums, co-payments, or a lower annual out-of-pocket cap.
Or, you might find a plan that adds additional coverage like prescription drugs, dental or vision that your current plan doesn’t offer. This is helpful because what might have been the “right” plan for you last year, might not be the right plan for you now. Ideally, you can find the same or better coverage you have today with lower overall costs.
Join, drop or change a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (PDP). With a PDP (known as Part D), you may join, drop or change if you have original Medicare, if your Medicare Advantage Plan does not cover prescription drugs, or you already have an individual PDP but want to explore other PDP plans. While the general PDP rules are the same for all insurers, there can be significant differences between plans.
Monthly premiums, deductibles, co-payments and even restrictions on individual drugs may vary.
To help you choose the one that’s best for you, make a list of your medications and spend some time with the Plan Finder at medicare.gov or usaa.com. There you can enter your specific medications and compare deductibles, co-payments and overall estimated costs as well as ratings of different plans. I spent some time on the calculator and found it surprisingly easy to use. The goal: Find the best coverage and costs for your particular prescription regimen.
Of course, ghosts, goblins, and werewolves are make-believe, but health-care costs can be the stuff of nightmares if you don’t have the right coverage. So don’t cower in the corner. Instead, be proactive, do some research and come January, enjoy the “treats” of your labor.
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