Medicare helps tens of millions of Americans over 65 get the healthcare coverage they need.
Once you're a Medicare member, you have the right to make choices about your coverage every year during open enrollment. With the Medicare annual open enrollment period set to open in a few days, you'll want to know everything there is to know about making the best choice you can with your healthcare coverage.
Below, you'll find the answers to some basic questions about open enrollment, along with guidance you can use to come up with a winning strategy for your personal financial and healthcare situation.
When is Medicare open enrollment available?
Open enrollment starts every year on Oct. 15. Enrollment is available for nearly two months, ending on Dec. 7. Once you sign up, any changes apply to the following plan year that starts on Jan. 1.
What can you do during Medicare open enrollment?
There are many changes you can make during the open enrollment period. If you're covered under traditional Medicare, then you can switch to a Medicare Advantage Plan. If you currently have Medicare Advantage coverage, you can switch back to traditional Medicare, or you can shift to a different Medicare Advantage plan.
Changes to prescription drug coverage are also available. Medicare Advantage participants can shift from a plan that offers drug coverage to one that doesn't, or from a plan that offers no coverage to one that does. It's also possible to switch to Medicare Advantage plans with different drug coverage options. Changes regarding separate Part D prescription drug coverage are also available, including dropping existing coverage, switching between Part D plans, or signing up for brand-new Part D coverage.
Are low premiums the most important part of choosing a Medicare option?
The most obvious cost of Medicare is what you pay in premiums. Traditional Medicare's Part B medical expense coverage has a monthly premium, as do Medicare Advantage and Part D prescription drug plans. Cheaper plans always look attractive.
However, more important than the premium cost is the total amount you'll have to pay out of your own pocket for healthcare. A plan with a low premium might offer less comprehensive coverage, leaving you to cover more of your ongoing costs and resulting in higher out-of-pocket expenses. Conversely, a plan with a high premium might cover nearly everything you need, making the premium the only expense you'll ever bear. Focusing solely on the premium incorporates just half of the information you need to make the best possible decision.
How does my health and medical history matter in making a good decision?
Your health and any changes in your physical condition are typically the most important aspects of making a smart choice with your Medicare coverage. A plan that was right for you last year might not be good for you this year if your healthcare needs have changed and your old plan didn't really provide much protection against the costs of getting necessary care. Being able to look at other plans can put you in a better place going forward.
Nowhere is this clearer than with prescription drug plans. Some plans provide very basic coverage at little or no cost, making them ideal for those who don't have major drug needs and don't anticipate needing them in the future. Those who have extensive prescriptions will want to look at other plans that cover a wider variety of treatments. The premiums might be higher, but the savings from not having to pay full price on a non-covered drug will often make up for the premium payment.
In the end, you won't be able to predict exactly what your health will look like over the next year. Still, your recent history should be able to tell you how effective your current Medicare coverage is and whether changes would be warranted in order to provide even better protection against healthcare expenses in 2018 and beyond.
Be smart with open enrollment
Medicare open enrollment is a time you can use to get the most out of your healthcare coverage. Be ready next week to look at your options and find the one that fits your needs the best.
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