Medicare Open Enrollment, which began on October 15th, ends on December 7th this year, not at the end of month as it once did. The fall Open Enrollment period is the time during which you (or a loved one, friend or family member) can choose and join a Medicare health or prescription drug plan, or change a plan in which you are currently enrolled. The new coverage, whether you’ve switched plans or just joined, will begin on January 1, 2012.
The thing about shopping for Medicare coverage is that it’s sometimes a rather daunting task – really. We could all use some help comparing and contrasting the plan designs, prices, preventive services and screenings offered and so on. The new health care law has actually strengthened Medicare by offering even more choices and benefits, and lowering the overall costs. These improvements, however, make the whole selection process that much more challenging.
Kathy Greenlee, Assistant Secretary for the Aging, has some suggestions to help us review our own Medicare coverage, or help a friend or family member go over their options as the deadline approaches:
Keep in mind the Three C’s:
- Coverage. This is not as easy as it sounds. Obviously, next week’s general health (or sickness) is usually pretty unpredictable. So here we are, buying today what we may need eight months from now. But while the future is hard to forecast with absolute certainty, the present and the near past can help. How are you feeling now? What about over the past twelve months? Do you or a loved one have new or different health challenges than you had last year? Will you be traveling and in need of flexible coverage? Are you still working? Do you have other health plans available? No matter what your situation, look for plans with 5-star performance ratings. The right doctors and treatment will doubtless shorten your recovery time and improve your outcomes. And remember that the Affordable Care Act installed access to many screenings and preventive services at no cost.
- Cost. Cost, of course, is the primary driver in any market, including health care. Who doesn’t want the best value for the lowest price? While it isn’t always easy to find the perfect plans without a good deal of research and expert help, choosing the right fit can save you hundreds – and perhaps even thousands – of dollars over a year. You’ve got to shop around. This link is good start: Medicare.gov. And always keep in mind as you compare plans that the lowest premium health plan (the one with the lowest monthly cost) is not necessarily your best option. Your health care costs include more than just the monthly premium amount.
- Convenience. This is something not to be overlooked. When making your selection, or helping someone with theirs, take into consideration office locations and hours, pharmacy availability and whether the doctors prescribe electronically and so on. How much running around are you willing to do – are you able to do? Is the doctor’s office on one end of town, with the screenings and tests to be performed some twenty miles away? Who will coordinate all of this, and how? Keep in mind weather challenges, traffic issues, stairs, parking, everything. We are harried enough and time is truly precious.
Here are some other sites that can help with all this – and remember, the 7th is right around the corner:
Next time, we will review the 2012 Medicare costs and services.