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Medicare Open Enrollment--what do you need to do? And when?

10-14-2016 by Colleen King

It's that time again, the Medicare Annual Election Period (AEP) where you can make changes to the plans that augment your Medicare--which one is best, which one will do the most for you, how do you decide? All of those blasted Medicare related commercials, what are you to believe?

The Medicare AEP is when you can make changes to your Medicare Advantage plans or Part D drug plans. AEP starts October 15th, ends December 7th, with any changes you make taking effect January 1. This does not apply to Medicare Supplements, not sure why, but they are regulated differently--my opinion wasn't sought. We'll talk about that in another article.

Medicare Advantage plans--These will fill in some of the gaps on your Medicare, and most will include your Part D drug coverage. Most of these are HMO plans if you're in Southern California, and if you're in Los Angeles County, several of the Medicare HMOs have no premium above your Part B premium. These can be really cost effective options--some have no office visit or hospitalization copays--wow! The potential drawback? They are HMOs, so you have to stay within a network. If you are used to commercial (under age 65) HMOs, these could be a good way to go if your preferred doctors are contracted. Medicare HMO network can be larger than commercial HMOs because doctors are realizing their patients are getting older.

Medicare PPOs--there are some but they are fewer and farther between. These are part of the Medicare Advantage series of plans. And most of the time, like commercial PPOs, you can count on more out of pocket expenses, even if you stay 'in network,' that's just the nature of the beast.

Part D drug plans (PDPs)--If you have a Medicare Advantage plan (HMO or PPO) you usually do NOT need a drug plan, it's included in the plan. In fact if you try to enroll in one, it will kick you out of your Medicare Advantage plan. You will need a PDP if you have a Medicare Supplement because those do not cover drugs. There are about 25 PDPs in California, and which ones will fit your needs best depends on your medications and your preferred pharmacy. It's definitely case by case.

Bottom line--work with an independent agent. There is no cost to you with an independent agent. In order to make recommendations, we do the work of checking out who your doctors are contacted with, which plans will cover your medications best, at least that's what I do and my agent peers as well. You can do it all on your own, call each carrier, try to decipher all the information and pick a plan. And while the carrier reps are nice people for the most part, they will all try to call you back to follow up. Aetna, Anthem, Blue Shield, Silver Script, Health Net, AARP/United Healthcare, Humana and SCAN--all will call you back. Work with an agent you like and trust, and just have one person calling you back rather than several. After all, you have better things to do with your time!




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