Annual Enrollment Period is the only period of time during the year (Oct 15th – Dec. 7th) when you can make unrestricted changes to your Medicare coverage. This period of time is extremely important for anyone who is currently enrolled or interested in basic Medicare or Medicare Advantage plans. Unfortunately, it appears that Annual Enrollment Period (or AEP) is often overlooked or misunderstood. Every year, news reports announce the number of people who could be saving money on their Medicare plans but either aren’t aware of their options or don’t compare prices.
Our job as a Medicare supplement agency is to educate seniors and enable them to make informed decisions about their coverage so they can save money. When we hear that “Medicare Advantage beneficiaries could have saved $634 in 2013 on prescription drugs” if they had known how to compare plans, we feel the immediate responsibility to educate and inform more people about their options during this period. (Wallstreet Journal, eHealth Study) We realize that AEP and the entire topic of Medicare can be confusing and many people just don’t know where to begin. This is where we can help. We are here to clarify any confusion you may have about AEP, and outline the best ways for you to take advantage of this period.
The first and biggest decision you will face during AEP is deciding between basic Medicare and a Medicare Advantage Plan. These two options are the two pillars of Medicare coverage. If you choose a Medicare Advantage Plan you are opting out of basic Medicare, and you are locked into it for the following year until the next AEP. If you choose basic Medicare, you can then choose to enroll in Medicare supplement plans to obtain more comprehensive coverage. Both basic Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans have their perks and problems. Take a look at some of the major differences between Medicare Advantage Plans and basic Medicare below:
Medicare Advantage Plans
- “Pay as you go”
- No monthly premiums
- More out-of-pocket expenses
- Occasional deductibles
Medicare Supplement Plans
- Covers the gaps in basic Medicare
- Monthly premiums
- No (or little) co-payments
- No (or few) deductibles
- Guaranteed coverage nationwide with any doctor that accepts basic Medicare
- Provides fuller coverage on out-of-pocket expenses
Medicare Advantage is cheaper at first glance because it requires no monthly premiums. However, Medicare supplement plans (only available to those covered by basic Medicare) offer the security of guaranteed coverage by federal law with fewer out-of-pocket expenses. If you are covered by a Medicare Advantage plan (private insurance) and you are diagnosed with a health condition, a doctor is not required to cover your expenses and you may end up paying thousands in out-of-pocket expenses. This is why it is important for you to compare options. If you do not take advantage of AEP, you could wind up stuck in a plan that is costing you more when you could be paying less.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Are you taking new Medications or have you developed a new Medical condition?
- How frequently do I visit the doctor? Will it increase in the next year?
- What benefits do I currently receive?
- Do these benefits fit my current needs?
- Is there a plan that offers the same benefits and more?
- Did I have a good experience with my current coverage over the past year?
- Can I save money with another plan?
All of these questions are important to ask yourself during AEP. The most important questions to ask about your coverage are numbers 5 and 7. Is there a better plan out there for you and can you save money? It may feel like a burden to have to research new options, but there are professional services that can make the research process much easier for you. Instead of doing all the research by yourself, call an independent Medicare supplement agency. They do not charge you for their services and they can provide you with the exact numbers and coverage information you need. However, before you start calling, make sure you find a credible Medicare supplement agency. You don’t want to be spammed with calls. Find an agency online that is open and clear about their mission, provides client testimonials, and has accreditations from the BBB on their website. These are the agencies you can trust.