Enrolled in Medicare? Here’s Why You Need To Review Your Plan Before Dec. 7

An older woman gets her blood pressure taken by a therapist.
Therapist Maureen Devereaux, second from right, takes Rita Driscoll's blood pressure before Driscoll walks on a treadmill at University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis on Aug. 15, 2017. After years of leg pain slowing her down, Driscoll learned she has peripheral artery disease. Medicare soon will start paying hospitals and clinics for these exercise sessions, making the therapy available for thousands of older Americans with a specific type of leg pain. Medicare open enrollment period ends on Dec. 7, 2017. Jim Mone/AP Photo

If you’re a Medicare recipient, you’ll want to tackle an important task before the open enrollment period ends on Dec. 7.

Spend a few minutes reviewing your plan to make sure you’re getting the right coverage to meet your needs.

You could save hundreds of dollars and get even better benefits by switching to another plan.

Still More Fun Than a Colonoscopy

A new survey from WellCare Health Plans found that 62% of seniors aged 65 and up don’t review their Medicare plan annually.

In fact, some Medicare enrollees aren’t aware it’s possible to review and change their plans. Others say it’s simply too frustrating to bother.

According to the survey, people say reviewing Medicare plans ranks right up there with colonoscopies and dentist visits on the list of things they don’t like to do.

Where to Find Information on Medicare Plans

When you’re ready to review and compare Medicare plans, there are a few places to find the information you need.

1. Watch Your Mail

Medicare mails “Plan Annual Notice of Change” packets to enrollees every year outlining any upcoming changes in plan coverage or cost.

Watch your mail carefully, though. The packets can be easy to overlook.

2. Go Online

Everything you need to review and compare your Medicare plan options can be found at Medicare.gov.

Enter your zip code in the Medicare Plan Finder tool for a broad list of plans available in your area. Or, for more personalized results, provide your Medicare number, last name and date of birth.

If you need additional help choosing a plan, AARP is a great place to turn for objective advice.

“There’s a wealth of information on www.aarp.org, and you can do a quick search to find the articles that most interest you or are relevant to what you’re seeking,” says Bart Astor, author of AARP Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life.

“AARP, of course, has published some excellent books on Medicare and they have featured articles in their Bulletin and magazine that can help with choosing the right plan.”

3. Find an Adviser

You can seek Medicare advice from an insurance counselor in several places, including:

If you’re interested in plans with a particular company, “don’t forget about the customer service personnel at companies that offer plans,” Astor says. “They’re very knowledgeable and can help you find what’s best for you.”

Medicare advisers are also an option. Be sure to choose an independent agent who is authorized to sell a variety of Medicare plans rather than a captive agent who may be limited to only one or two plans.

“A captive agent will only be able to offer you a few plans, whether they fit your needs or not,” Diane Daniels, author of The Medicare Survival Guide, explained to USA Today. “A captive agent doesn’t get paid if they don’t make a sale. A captive agent doesn’t have you in their best interest. A Medicare adviser will.”

Medicare advisers are typically paid commission by the insurance companies they represent, and do not charge customers for the advice they offer.

Susan Edwards, an editor at The Penny Hoarder, recently used an independent agent to help sort out her Medicare options.

“My adviser was an independent agent and did not charge me,” says Edwards. “The bonus is that he doesn’t work for a particular insurance company and so has no incentive to push one plan over another. He said he is paid the same commission, regardless of which plan his clients choose.”

There are thousands of listings for independent Medicare agents online but your best bet is to ask friends and family for a word-of-mouth referral.

How to Compare Medicare Plans

Medicare.gov offers a wealth of information about Medicare plans, but it can be tough to sort through it all.

1. The Cheapest Isn’t Always the Best

Medicare premiums range from $0 to $400 per month depending on the plan you choose. Optional drug coverage can add another $13.30 or more to your monthly bill.

“While cost is one consideration, the lowest price isn’t always the smart choice, just like you don’t always choose the low bidder for work done on your house,” says Astor.

2. Look at the Big Picture

Before committing to a Medicare plan, make sure the doctors you see now are covered and give some thought to what kind of medical care you may need in the future.

Keep in mind that traditional Medicare plans offer limited or no dental, vision or hearing services.

“Also don’t forget that Medicare has limits on diagnostic tests such as MRIs and PET scans,” Astor notes. “Mental health conditions and substance abuse coverage should be a consideration as well.”

3. Do the Math

There’s more to Medicare expenses than just the monthly premium, so make sure you understand what you’ll pay out-of-pocket for doctor visits, hospital stays, and medical tests.

“The key is to make sure that when you compare plans, you’re considering all of the costs, including the deductibles, not just the premiums,” Astor says.  

How to Save Money on Medicare

Astor says the key to saving money on health care and Medicare expenses is “to anticipate our health care needs in the future, not what they were in the past.”

Take prescription drug coverage, for example.

“[T]wo weeks ago my blood pressure was considered well within the range of normal,” Astor says. “But recently it was reported that a blood pressure higher than 130 over 80 is considered hypertension. In the coming year, therefore, my doctor may decide that I need to be on a blood pressure medicine.”

If you can’t afford your Medicare premium or deductible, you may be able to get help from your state or through a government-funded program called “Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly.”

Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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