It may be one of the biggest misconceptions people have about Medicare—thinking that when they’re eligible they can enroll and then they’re set for life—set it and forget it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Never changing your Medicare plan can be a costly mistake.
Every year, insurance companies make changes to the Medicare plans they offer. Those changes can affect your out-of-pocket costs, deductibles, drug costs, which doctors you can see and what pharmacies you can use.
The good news is, you do have options. Medicare choices made when you’re first eligible are not written in stone. Once a year you get to shop around and see if there’s a better Medicare arrangement than the one you have. If you find one, you can switch.
Changes are allowed during the Open Enrollment period which runs October 15 through December 7 every year. The new coverage you choose begins January 1 of the following year. You can switch
- From Original Medicare (Parts A & B) to a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C)
- From one Medicare Advantage Plan to another
- From Medicare Advantage back to Original Medicare
- From Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage to a Medigap policy (However, if you didn’t choose Medigap during your Initial Enrollment when you were first eligible you may have to go through an underwriting process to see if the Medigap company will cover you.)
- From one prescription drug plan (Part D) to another drug plan
About one-third of the 60-million people on Medicare choose a Medicare Advantage plan. It includes everything Original Medicare covers (Parts A & B) and may include prescription drug coverage (Part D) as well as vision, dental, hearing and other benefits such as gym memberships and transportation to medical appointments. Medicare Advantage plans are less expensive than Original Medicare, but you are required to use Medicare-approved medical providers. Think of it as being restricted to in-network providers.
With Medicare changes happening every year it’s important to shop around and see what’s best for you. One way to do that is with the federal government’s new-and-improved Plan Finder Tool which helps you search all your coverage options.
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, “The redesigned Medicare Plan Finder allows users to shop and compare Medicare Advantage and Part D plans as well as compare pricing between original Medicare, Medicare prescription drug plans, Medicare Advantage plans and Medicare supplemental insurance policies.”
If you haven’t looked at your current Medicare choices for a while or if you’ve recently had changes to your health or the medications you take, it’s time for a Medicare checkup. And if you’re confused by it all, and who isn’t, there are a couple of great resources that can help—Open Enrollment Guides from the National Council on Aging and AARP; and The Definitive Guide to Medicare from us at Alhambra.
Medicare should never be on auto-pilot.