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How to Prepare for the Medicare Annual Election Period

It’s never too early to think about the kind of changes you may need to make in your Medicare coverage for next year. The Medicare Annual Election Period (AEP), also known as the Fall Open Enrollment, is from October 15 through December 7 each year.

Understanding the Annual Election Period

To make sure you’re getting the best Medicare coverage that’s available, it’s a good idea to review your Medicare plan’s policy every year. For example, you might want to add a Medicare Part D plan to your Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) insurance, or you might want to switch to a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan.

During the Annual Election Period, you can:

  • Switch from Original Medicare, Part A and B, to a Medicare Advantage plan.
  • Switch from a Medicare Advantage plan back to Original Medicare.
  • Switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan, such as a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan.
  • Add, change, or drop a Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage plan.

If you make any changes during the Medicare Annual Election Period (AEP), your new Medicare coverage takes effect January 1 of the following year.

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Deciding whether to change your Medicare plan
How do you know whether to switch to another plan? This is something you need to think about carefully, because everyone’s situation is different. Here are some questions you might want to consider:

  • Do you take medications, or do you think you might in the future? If so, you may want to add Medicare prescription drug coverage. You can get this through a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan or through a stand-alone Medicare Part D plan.
  • Does your health plan cover your medications? If not, you may want to switch to a Medicare plan that does.
  • Have your health needs changed? Perhaps you now require additional Medicare coverage or need to see a specialist–a Medicare Advantage plan may be a suitable choice for you.
  • Does your plan’s network have providers that you like?
  • Do you want coverage of routine dental or vision services? Original Medicare, Part A and Part B, doesn’t have this coverage, but many Medicare Part C plans do.
  • Are you on a tight budget? If you’re fairly healthy, you might consider getting a Medicare plan with a higher annual deductible, which often means a lower premium.
  • Do you spend a lot of time in another state or do much traveling? – If so, one option to consider is adding a Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plan; these plans are standardized across most states and some of them have foreign travel medical coverage. To get a Medigap plan, you need to have Original Medicare; so if you’re in a Medicare Advantage plan and decide you want Medigap, you need to switch back to Original Medicare and then add the Medigap plan (and a stand-alone Part D plan, optionally).

Getting ready to enroll
Now that you’ve thought about what’s important to you, you need to understand the various Medicare options in general.

  • Take a moment to read about the various parts of Medicare.
  • Make a list of the medications you take. You’ll want to make sure any Medicare plan you switch to has those medications in its formulary (list of covered drugs).
  • See if your favorite doctor is enrolled with the Medicare plan you’re considering. Remember, if your Medicare doctor isn’t in a plan’s network, you might be able to see the doctor if you pay more out of pocket, depending on the plan.
  • Print out this list, and add to it, so you’ll have it handy when you start researching Medicare plans.

Sometimes it helps to talk to someone knowledgeable to help you figure out whether you need to make any changes. I’d be happy to discuss your situation with you and see if there are some suitable Medicare options in your area.

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