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Health Enroller’s Guide to Medicare’s Open Enrollment Part 1

Hooray! It’s finally fall! For many people, that means football, foliage, apple picking and delicious pumpkin-flavored everything. For Medicare recipients, fall also signals a slightly less fun, but equally important event: the annual Medicare Open Enrollment Period (OEP). Open Enrollment occurs every year from October 15th to December 7th. During Open Enrollment, anyone with Medicare can change their prescription drug plan or Medicare Advantage plan for any reason.

You may be thinking, “But I already chose my Medicare plan! Why change plans and go through all that again?” The answer is simple: to make sure your coverage is still the best fit for you. Insurance companies can make yearly adjustments to Medicare plans, potentially increasing your costs. These changes are outlined in your Annual Notice of Change. Given these yearly changes, it is a good idea to re-evaluate your current Medicare plan each year, and compare it against other available options. Switching to a different Medicare Advantage or Part D plan could potentially save you hundreds of dollars a year.

Not sure where to start? It’s actually as easy as looking in your mailbox. Starting in October, insurance companies will start flooding your mailbox with marketing materials about their plans. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will also send you mail alerting you to coverage changes you may need to make. So, how do you know which mail to open and which to recycle?

To start, follow our guide to the most important mailers:

• Annual Notice of Change (ANOC): You’ll receive this if you have a Medicare Advantage plan or a Medicare Part D plan. Your plan has to mail it out to you by September 30th, so it should be in your mailbox in early October. If you don’t receive it by the second week in October, then call your plan and ask for it. Or look for it online and download a copy. The ANOC is a BIG packet, but resist the urge to stash it in a drawer unopened. The ANOC lets you know what aspects of your plan will change from 2017 to 2018; remember, insurance companies can make yearly changes to Medicare plans that might increase your out-of-pocket costs. The ANOC is the only mailer insurance carriers are required to send out in order to alert you to these yearly plan changes. Whether the changes are major or minor, you need to figure out what impact they will have on you.

• Medicare & You Handbook: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) mails this handbook out in late September. If you don’t receive one by the second week in October, call 1-800-Medicare to get another copy with your state’s specific plan information. This handbook contains lots of useful information about when Medicare covers certain services, including preventive care, medical equipment and supplies, and much more.

• Additional mail from the Centers for Medicare and Social Security:

◦ If your current plan will no longer be available in 2018, CMS will mail you a letter saying you need to pick a new plan. In addition, your insurance company might send you a letter offering to move you into a different plan to replace the old one. No matter what you decide, make sure you enroll in your new plan by the end of the Open Enrollment period (Dec. 7).

◦ CMS will also send you a letter if your current plan received a low star rating for at least three years in a row. Plans with a 5-star rating are considered high quality, and those with fewer than 3 stars are considered poor quality. If your current plan is ranked as less than a 3, consider using the Open Enrollment period to switch to a higher rated plan.

◦ Do you qualify for Extra Help to help pay some of the costs of your Part D prescription drug plan? You may receive a letter from CMS saying that you’ll be put in a different plan in 2017; this is known as “reassignment.” Additionally, some people with Extra Help receive letters because they need to submit income information to stay in the program; this is known as “redetermination”.

Still confused about Open Enrollment or Medicare in general? Like us on Facebook and get all the latest news and updates about Medicare. Health Enroller is always posting new and informative articles to help keep you in the know about what is going on with your Medicare health coverage. You can also give us a call and get free professional advice from a licensed agent.

No matter how busy your fall gets, be sure and make a little time to review the mailings listed above. It can make a huge difference to both your bottom line and the quality of your care.

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