Thinking about the upcoming Medicare annual election period probably makes your stomach hurt. Chances are that you’ve finally just relaxed into summer with family, and perhaps you’ve gotten some travel in. Unfortunately, every time you turn on the news or read a magazine, you are seeing scary headlines about doctors leaving Medicare in droves or theories about how badly your Medicare Advantage plan benefits will be pummeled when the Obamacare $500 billion in funding cuts start to kick in next year.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last decade in the Medicare business is that we can’t always accurately forecast what’s going to happen next year, because as soon as you do, something changes it. So we suggest that you deal with your Medicare benefits the same way you always have, and take it ONE YEAR at a time.
That being said, how can you get a jump start on any changes you may want to make to your Medicare Advantage plan or Part D drug plan each fall? Here’s some tips about how to stay organized and not get distracted by the flurry of mail and television advertisements headed your way:
- Talk to your doctor’s office about your current plan. Are they satisifed with the plan? Any chance they’ll be leaving the network? Doctors can change networks at the end of any contract and consumers like you and me never know when that might be coming around for renewal. So simply ask at the billing office if the doctor and his staff seem satisfied with your current plan or whether there’s any chance they may change the plans they are accepting.
- Be on the lookout for the Annual Notice of Change packet you will receive in the mail in September. Private Medicare carriers must send them to you in September. Marketing for Medicare Advantage and Part D drug plans will begin on October 1st, even though you can’t make any changes until October 15th. During that marketing period, your current carrier is required to send you a notice of what’s changing with your plan in 2013. Because this packet is a big ‘ol doorstopper, many people toss it aside and proscrastinate digging through it. Sometimes they put it off past January 1st, and then it’s too late to make changes. Don’t let the size of the packet freak you out. Usually the very top letter in the packet is a summary of the changes listed side by side from this year’s benefits to next year’s benefits. If the changes seem minor to you, chances are you don’t need to do anything at all. However, if something major is changing, then you’ll want to know about it soon enough that you can contact an agent who specializes in Medicare-related products to help you when October 15th rolls around.
- Know your time frames. The annual election period last from October 15th – December 7th, and any changes made occur on January 1st. This timeframe is different than from a few years ago, so don’t forget about that and think you can change all the way up to December 31st because you can’t. The window is short, and that’s why it needs to be marked clearly on your calendar.
- Make a list of your medications. If your prescriptons have changed since last year, you will want to re-evaluate whether your current drug plan is still giving you the best bang for your buck. Keep a list of your medications, including the medication name that’s listed on the pill bottle (which tells your agent if it’s a brand name or generic version) and the dosage and frequency that you take these medications. Have it ready to send to your agent for review in October.
- Call your agent to say hello. Your agent should be calling you once a year to touch base anyway, but if you haven’t heard from him or her, make a quick call to touch base and make sure they’ve got you on their radar for this fall. You can request that your agent give you a call in September to remind you to look out for that Annual Notice of Change. Enlisting your agent’s help will ensure that together you can get everything taken care of painlessly. Don’t have an agent? Consider getting yourself one. Insurance agents who specialize in Medicare can take an enormous amount of the workload off you, and you pay exactly the same for your plan when you have an agent as you do when you enrolled direct with your carrier. The primary difference is that now you have an extra resource for stuff like the annual review.
Keeping up with your annual Medicare decisions is sort of like doing your taxes. If you keep good records the whole year long, you make everything so much easier for yourself to gather together what you need at tax filing time. It’s fair to say that your health is just as important, so start pulling together now what you’ll need, and you’ll find that you won’t have to dread the annual election period because you’ll already be prepared.
Need help with evaluating your options? Contact Boomer Benefits for assistance with your choices.