Ah, October: the weather is cooler, the nights are longer, the leaves are turning color, and it’s Medicare Open Enrollment Time. (That may explain why you see so many older adults walking around with perplexed expressions on their faces at this time of year.)
Medicare Open Enrollment for the 2018 calendar year begins October 15 and runs through December 7, 2017. This is the one time of year (for most people – there are some limited exceptions) when qualified seniors 65 and older can change their coverage by switching between original Medicare and Medicare Advantage (offered by private health insurance companies) or switching from one Medicare Advantage plan to another. Naturally when this season comes around you’ll find a host of articles designed to help the decision-making process seem less daunting. However, you’ll need to be careful, because some of those “helpful” articles aren’t objective after all – many are actually written by companies with products to sell. (Remember, you can always find plan comparisons for your zip code by using the Plan Finder at www.medicare.gov.)
We found two recent articles that seem reasonable and objective, articles that could be helpful for seniors analyzing their Medicare options. The first article is this one from the website USNews, called “9 Questions to Ask Yourself during Medicare Open Enrollment,” and we’ll list these nine in a moment. The second is from our friends at AARP. As they often do, the organization devoted a significant portion of the October AARP Bulletin to Medicare decision-making, including a handy chart to help seniors decide whether Medicare Advantage or a so-called Medigap Plan is the best way to go. Choices like these, writes AARP are critical: “[They] could save you hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars a year and could well determine the quality of your health care, and your health, for years to come.” But making the right choice is not only important, it’s also complicated. “These plans change a lot from year to year,” says Leigh Purvis, director of health services research with the AARP Public Policy Institute. “You can leave hundreds of dollars on the table if you’re not in the right plan for you.”
So, like millions of seniors, you have a limited amount of time to make a potentially major medical and financial decision. Where should you start? You might want to take a look at the article from USNews and review their list of nine helpful questions. The answers will hopefully guide you as you evaluate your options. Here’s the list:
- “Did you have problems with your plan last year?” In the words of USNews, “Seniors who had a positive Medicare experience last year may have little reason to change coverage, assuming there have been no significant changes to the plan benefits or their personal situation.” However, the article adds, “If your current plan isn’t meeting your needs, now is the time to make changes.”
- “Can you afford your current plan?” Answering this question demands you look past the premiums to include co-pays, deductibles and prescriptions. Don’t buy more coverage than you can afford, or less than you really need.
- “Do you want supplemental coverage?” If you do, you’ll find that switching back and forth between Medicare Advantage and Medigap coverage carries some restrictions. Before you leave your current plan, make sure you can continue to get the coverage you need, especially as your health care needs change.
- “How much traveling will you do next year?” Medicare Advantage plans tend to be less expensive but they restrict the doctors you can see. Make sure your plan provides “portable” coverage if you’re expecting to be away from home a great deal, or if you divide your time between homes in separate states.
- “Were you recently diagnosed with a new illness?” If so, make sure your present plan will provide the coverage you’ll need down the line. You may want to seek out a plan that provides case management, especially if you’ll be going through treatment for a long time. Now is the time for that critical analysis.
- “Will you need dental or vision coverage?” Original Medicare doesn’t generally cover these important services, while many Medicare Advantage plans do.
- “Do you need a separate prescription drug plan?” Perhaps your situation has changed since last year. Make sure you consider this question, along with the next one, to make certain you don’t leave yourself unprotected.
- “Are your prescriptions covered?” As your prescriptions change, says USNews, you might need to switch Part D plans. Make sure you consult with your doctor about your present and future needs and choose your plan accordingly.
- “Do you need help finding the right plan?” The article suggests that you might. “Just as people seek advisors to help them plan their finances, there are agents who can help clients select the best Medicare option possible,” says the USNews But make sure you select someone objective. “The last thing you want to do is work with an agent who only works with one client,” says wealth adviser Chris Alberta. “In that case, chances are a person will be directed to the client’s product rather than the best plan possible.”
We strongly suggest if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your options that you contact our AgingOptions office so we can provide the assistance you need. Don’t try making important decisions involving medical coverage without getting some objective advice. That also goes for all your retirement planning, because typical “one-dimensional” planning that focuses solely on finances is simply not enough. A truly comprehensive retirement plan considers finances, medical care, legal protection, housing options and family communication, so that every facet works with and reinforces the others. We call that type of retirement plan an AgingOptions LifePlan. If you’re ready to get serious about retirement planning, or even if you’re years away from retirement but starting to look ahead, we invite you to join us for an information-packed LifePlanning Seminar, a free session with Rajiv Nagaich where you’ll discover retirement planning like you never thought possible.
For information and online registration, this link will take you to our Upcoming Events page where you can select the seminar of your choice. We’ll look forward to seeing you soon. And remember, if Medicare Open Enrollment is starting to look like a maze, call AgingOptions so we can steer you toward the decision that’s right for you. Age on!
(originally reported at https://money.usnews.com and www.aarp.org)