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Health Reform 101

with Lisa Zamosky

WebMD helps readers understand their health insurance and the new health care reform law. The Affordable Care Act is bringing sweeping changes to American health care. Lisa Zamosky is here to help you navigate the health care maze and understand how these changes affect you.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Time for Medicare Open Enrollment

By Lisa Zamosky

Medicare annual enrollment (officially called the Annual Coordinated Election Period, or ACEP) is the main opportunity seniors with Medicare Advantage and Part D prescription drug plans have each year to make changes to their coverage.

I’ll be writing a series of blog posts over the coming weeks to address a variety of issues regarding Medicare plans and what to consider during open enrollment. This marks the first.

New Enrollment Period

The biggest piece of news is that the Medicare annual enrollment period has changed. This year it runs from October 15 through December 7.  That’s a full month earlier than usual (open enrollment typically begins November 15) and it ends just shy of a month early (in years past, it’s been open up to the end of the year).

You’ll want to make note of the dates to avoid missing the chance to sign up for a new plan or review your existing coverage and make any necessary changes for the 2012 benefit year. Check out this handy open enrollment calendar on Medicare.gov to stay on track with important dates.

What Can I Change?

During open enrollment you can do one of the following:

  • Enroll in a Part D prescription drug plan to help pay for prescription drugs
  • Change an existing Part D plan to a new one
  • Return to traditional Medicare from a Medicare Advantage plan
  • Enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan for the first time
  • Change from one Medicare Advantage plan to another

Check Your Current Plan

Even if you’re satisfied with your current Medicare Advantage or Part D drug plan, it’s a mistake to let open enrollment pass without doing some research.

Plans frequently change from year to year, so you want to be sure that the coverage you currently have is still the best coverage for you. Your insurance company is required to inform you of any plan changes coming in 2012, so be on the lookout for a notice if you haven’t already received one.

Even if no changes are in the works, there may be opportunities to save money on another plan, while still meeting your medical needs.

Compare your plan against others available in your area. You can do that with the Medicare Plan Finder tool. On the Medicare web site, you can search for and compare benefits and costs of private insurance plans in your area. You can do the same on Planprescriber.com, as well as enroll in private Medicare Advantage plans in your area.

State Health Insurance Counseling and Assistance Programs (SHIPS) provide Medicare recipients free access to counselors who will help you compare Medicare plans.

Mymedicalmatters.org, a web site run by the National Council on Aging, has a lot of information about Medicare drug plans, how to evaluate your needs, and how to sign up or switch your existing coverage.

You can explore even more Medicare resources in this previous blog post.

Your turn: What are your questions and concerns heading into Medicare open enrollment? Tell me by posting a comment.

SOURCES:
Medicare.gov
Center for Medicare Advocacy, Inc.

Posted by: Lisa Zamosky at 8:37 am

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