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. Who wants to think about Medicare plans for 2019? (This post has been updated for 2019).
In the Medicare business, we can’t always accurately forecast what’s going to happen next year. As soon as you do, something changes it. So we suggest that you deal with your Medicare benefits the same way you always have. Take it ONE YEAR at a time.
That being said, how can you get a jump start on any changes? You have an opportunity to change your Medicare Advantage plan or Part D drug plan each fall. Here’s are some facts about the AEP and also tips about how to stay organized and not get distracted by the flurry of advertisements headed your way.
Reasons for Changing Your Plan During the Annual Election Period
There are many reasons why people may want to change plans, but here are some of the most common:
- You don’t like the plan changes coming up for the next year
- Your monthly plan premium is going up
- You have learned that one of your doctors will no longer be in the network
- The plan is dropping one of your important medications for next year
- You want the more comprehensive coverage provided by a Medicare supplement plan
Checklist for the 2019 Medicare Annual Election Period
Talk to your doctor’s office about your current plan
If you are enrolled in Original Medicare and a Medigap plan, this conversation should be easy. Simply ask: “Will you still be taking Original Medicare next year?” If he or she says yes, your current coverage will continue to serve you well.
But what if you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan that changes benefits, premiums, networks and formularies every year?
Find out if you doctors are still in network. Are they satisfied with the plan? Any chance they’ll be leaving the network? Doctors can change networks at any time of year. Consumers like you and me never know when that might be coming around for renewal. So ask your doctor and his staff. Are they satisfied with participating in your plan or do they intend to make changes?
Be on the lookout for the Annual Notice of Change packet
You will receive an Annual Notice of Change in the mail for your Part D drug plan or Medicare Advantage plan (if you are enrolled in one.)
Medicare insurance carriers must send them to you by September 30 each year. This notice well tell you what’s changing with your plan next year. This packet is a big ‘ol door-stopper. Many people toss it aside and procrastinate looking at 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 to make changes.
Know your Medicare Annual Election Period time frames
The annual election period last from October 15th – December 7th, and any changes made occur on January 1st. This time frame 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 prescriptions have changed since last year, then 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.
If you have never enrolled in Part D before and you are using the Annual Election Period to sign up for the first time, be aware that you may be subject to a late penalty. People who wait to enroll in Part D will pay a late penalty when they later enroll if they didn’t have any other creditable health insurance/drug coverage since they turned 65.
Call your agent to say hello
Your agent should be calling you once a year to touch base anyway. (If they aren’t, you should really consider switching to an agency like Boomer Benefits that provides annual reminders and end-of-year webinars to keep you informed on what’s changing for next year.)
Anyway, if you haven’t heard from your agent, 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. 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 Medicare Annual Election Period.
How to Switch from Medicare Advantage to Medigap
If you enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan and you want to switch from Medicare Advantage to Medigap, you can use the Annual Election Period to return to Original Medicare. You can choose a new Part D drug plan as well. However, for the Medigap plan, you will need to apply and in most cases will need to answer health questions. There is no guarantee that you will be accepted.
For this reason, we always help our clients apply for the Medigap plan first with a January 1st effective date. Once we are certain that this new Medigap application is approved, then we help you apply for a Part D drug plan which will automatically disenroll you from your Medicare Advantage plan.
If you are not able to qualify for a Medigap plan due to health conditions, you can consider switching to a different Medicare Advantage plan. People with standalone drug plans can also use the Medicare Annual Election Period to change from one Part D plan to another.
Can You Change Your Medigap Plan During the AEP?
Your Medigap plan does not change benefits from year to year like Part D plans and Medicare Advantage plans do. So the only reason people usually want to change their Medigap plan is if there has been a premium increase.
It’s important to know that you can change your Medigap plan any time of year but in most states this will require health questions. Never disenroll from your Medicare Advantage plan until you have first applied for and been approved by the new Medigap carrier. Once they notify you of acceptance, then you can disenroll from your Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare as well as add a standalone Part D drug plan.
Many of our clients use the Annual Election Period to change their Part D drug plans, but they worry about their Medigap plans another time. Since you are not limited to changing Medigap only only during the AEP, this is less you have to worry about during the short fall window of change.
Want to Learn More about How to Prepare for the AEP?
You can check out our short Youtube Video Here:
Get Help with the Medicare Annual Election Period 2019
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., Start pulling together now what you’ll need. You won’t dread the annual election period because you’ll prepare ahead of time.
Need help with evaluating your options? Contact a friendly, no-hassle agent here at Boomer Benefits to walk you through your options.