3 Steps to Prepare for a Successful Annual Enrollment Period
Foreword from Denise Austin
40-Year Fitness Icon
Creator of Fit Over 50 Magazine
From going to the gym without a workout itinerary to shopping for health insurance – having a strategy prior to starting will put you in the best position to succeed. To help you put your best foot forward, Ensurem has written this guide on how to prepare for the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period.
“Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period is from Oct. 15 – Dec. 7. Follow these tips to ensure you’re not paying too much or missing out on necessary benefits.”
Did you know Medicare plans change each year? And while you may be happy with your current coverage, you could end up paying more than you need or missing out on important benefits if you’re not prepared. It’s important you review these changes before the Annual Enrollment Period begins to ensure that doesn’t happen.
In this blog post, we outline three detailed steps you should take to prepare for a successful AEP – and one bonus step you can take to combine all three. But first, let’s talk about what this enrollment time is all about.
What is Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period?
The Medicare Annual Enrollment Period (AEP), is a seven-and-half week period when Medicare members can add, drop or switch plans for the following year. More specifically, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), during AEP, Medicare beneficiaries can:
- Drop their Original Medicare (Parts A & B) and switch to a Medicare Advantage (Part C) Plan
- Drop their Medicare Advantage Plan and switch back to Original Medicare
- Switch Medicare Advantage Plans
- Join, drop or switch Prescription Drug (Part D) Plans
For many Medicare beneficiaries, this enrollment period is the only time you can make changes to your Medicare coverage outside of your Initial Enrollment Period unless you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period or the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period in Jan. (more on that below.)
Important Medicare enrollment dates to remember:
- Oct. 15 – Dec. 7: Medicare Annual Enrollment Period
- Jan. 1: Coverage begins and changes are implemented
- Jan. 1 – March 31: Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period
How is Medicare AEP different from Medicare Advantage OEP?
Sometimes the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period is referred to as the Medicare Open Enrollment Period, when in fact there is an entirely separate event. The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (OEP) happens every year between Jan. 1 and March 31. In 2019, The Medicare Advantage OEP replaced the Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period (Jan. 1 – Feb. 14).
According to CMS, during the Medicare Advantage OEP, Medicare Advantage Plan enrollees only can make one of the following changes:
- Switch to another Medicare Advantage Plan
- Disenroll from a Medicare Advantage Plan and go back to Original Medicare with or without a supplemental Part D Plan.
Now that you know the basics about Medicare AEP, let’s talk about how to prepare for it.
How is Medicare AEP Different from Marketplace OEP?
Medicare Annual Enrollment Period is sometimes confused with the annual open enrollment for the federal Health Insurance Marketplace®, which is associated with health care insurance plans governed under the Affordable Care Act. While the two enrollment periods may overlap, it’s important to understand that they are not related.
Most seniors over the age of 65 should not concern themselves with the health insurance Marketplaces or their open enrollments. In fact, it’s illegal for someone to knowingly sell you a major medical plan from the Marketplace if you have Medicare.1
3 Steps to Preparing for Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period
While AEP doesn’t start until Oct. 15, Medicare.gov releases its annual “Medicare & You” handbook on Oct. 1. Starting the same day, you’ll have access to the site’s Medicare Plan Finder where you can search current Medicare Plans.
Ensurem also offers a similar tool where you can search Medicare Advantage plans available in your area.
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This means you don’t have to (and you shouldn’t) wait until Oct. 15 to prepare. In fact, you should start with the first step below as early as September.
Step 1: Needs Analysis
Sometime in September your plan should send you an Annual Notice of Change (ANOC). Before you review this document, it’s important to assess your needs.
A lot can change in a year. Knowing where you stand coming into a new year will help you make the right decisions. Here’s what you should know:
How’s your overall health?
- Has your health status changed at all?
- Did you struggle to get the care you needed this year or the quality you expected?
- Are you visiting the doctor more or less than you anticipated?
If your health has gotten worse or you had difficulty getting the care you needed this year, you may benefit from a more comprehensive Medicare plan. Yet, if your health has gotten better and you visited the doctor less than you anticipated, you may benefit from a less comprehensive Medicare plan.
Are you comfortable with your healthcare costs?
- Have your financial circumstances changed?
- Are you paying more co-pays or deductibles than you expected?
- Do you have difficulty meeting your deductibles?
If you’re uncomfortable with your healthcare costs, you have options. Focus on choosing a Medicare plan that has cheaper premiums but still covers the benefits you need. Or consider purchasing a Medicare Supplement plan to cover the out-of-pocket costs.
Has your flexibility changed?
- Will you be traveling more or less than you did?
- Do you have plans to move?
- Do you need to change doctors or specialists for any reason?
Different Medicare plans offer different flexibility options. For example, some offer benefits to those traveling internationally and some are state-specific. Knowing your flexibility needs will help you choose the right plan.
Are you happy with your prescription drug benefits?
- Have you started or stopped any medications?
- Did you have to dish out more than you expected on prescriptions?
If you were unable to cover the cost of your medications, you should consider purchasing a prescription drug plan or (if you already have one) changing drug plans. After you’ve assessed your needs, you’re ready to review changes to your current coverage.
Step 2: Review Changes
As previously mentioned, Medicare plans change. Fortunately, you should receive your insurer’s new plan documents sometime in September. These documents include the Evidence of Coverage (EOC) and Annual Notice of Change (ANOC).
Review these documents closely to understand what changes are being made and whether the plan will continue to meet your needs in the next year.
This is also a good time to review the “Medicare & You” handbook. This document is published yearly by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). It includes important information regarding things like the enrollment process, your coverage options and your rights.
At this time, you may decide that you are in fact happy with your plan(s). If that’s that case, feel free to kick back and relax. You don’t have to take any action to keep your current coverage.
Yet, if you think your plan won’t continue to meet your needs, or you are unsure what your best move is, then you should take the next step to compare your options.
Step 3: Compare Plans
Since you’ve reviewed your current plan(s) and have an idea of how the changes may affect your needs, you’re ready to start comparing your options.
Ensurem has a team of licensed insurance agents that’re ready to help you compare eligible plans that meet your insurance needs. Our agents do a thorough evaluation and learn what’s important to you prior to making suggestions.
If you’re more of an online shopper, Ensurem also has an online Medicare Advantage comparison tool that allows you see plans in your area, compare policy details and even enroll online.
Ensurem Trusted Expertise
Education is crucial in finding the right Medicare solution for you. With so many Medicare resources out there, it can be difficult finding a source you can trust. That’s why Ensurem has a Compliance Program dedicated to ensuring our Medicare content meets Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) regulations. So, you can rest assured you’re getting the information you need to make the right coverage decisions.
Denise Austin, 65, Ensurem Ambassador
Best-Selling Author, Creator of Fit Over 50 Magazine
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