Open enrollment season is in full swing, representing a crucial time of year for anyone shopping for health coverage. With all the media attention on Obamacare, it’s easy to overlook Medicare’s annual open enrollment period for the nation’s 55 million Medicare beneficiaries, which runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7.
If you are happy with your Medicare coverage, you can keep it. However, now is the time to make any changes to your coverage for 2017. If you are enrolled in Part D (Medicare’s drug coverage) or a Medicare Advantage plan (an alternative to traditional Medicare provided by private insurers), you can switch your insurance during this period. Those who miss this year’s open enrollment period will have to wait another year to alter their plan unless you have a major life event (marriage, a child, etc.).
“Everyone should double-check their coverage. Don’t assume your coverage will stay the same,” said Katy Votava, president of Goodcare.com, a health care consulting firm and author of Making the Most of Medicare: A Guide for Baby Boomers.
Apparently, few Medicare participants use open enrollment to improve their coverage. Only about 10% of people switch Medicare Advantage plans and 13% adjust their Part D plans, according to Kaiser Family Foundation.
However, if you’re willing to invest a little extra time in searching around for better Medicare coverage, you can cut your monthly expenses by hundreds of dollars next year. The Kaiser foundation found that the average Medicare Advantage enrollee saved $190 annually on their premiums and lowered their out-of-pocket expenses by about $400 when they switched plans during the 2014 open enrollment period.
Enrollees can also find extra savings by changing their Part D prescription drug plans.
So for a little investment of time, shopping around for savings can definitely be worth the trouble. However, the Medicare program doesn’t make it easy for retirees to find the best deals.
How to find the best plans
One of the best places to start during open enrollment is MedicareInfo.org.
This valuable online resource will compare Part D and Medicare Advantage plans by ZIP code and provides a host of tools to assist seniors in the decision-making process.
Need a human being to help you navigate the confusing mess of Medicare jargon and benefits? You can talk to someone at Medicare by calling 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227) or a person at the Medicare Rights Center’s free hotline 800-333-4114. All these people are required to give you unbiased advice about your Medicare options.
“Shop early. Don’t wait until the last week of open enrollment,” Goodcare.com’s Votava said. Medicare hotlines and assistance will have long waits in the last few weeks of open enrollment.