The Medicare enrollment season is here. Running now through Dec. 7, the enrollment period allows seniors to choose from thousands of available options in the individual Medicare market.
But it can be a daunting task, experts from consulting firm Aon Hewitt warn. According to their research, 60 percent of seniors say the amount of information about Medicare health insurance can be overwhelming, which can lead to less than ideal Medicare enrollment choices.
Similarly, another recent survey found that few Medicare beneficiaries switch Part D prescription drug plans voluntarily during open enrollment — even when savings are available.
The good news, says Tina Maldonado, retiree experience leader for Aon Hewitt Navigators, a retiree health care exchange, is that retirees have access to more help and assistance than ever before.
Here are five tips from Maldonado to help seniors optimize their health care choices during enrollment season.
Start early. Enrolling in Medicare, especially for the first time, is a complex process. You have limited time to choose and enroll in a plan, so don’t wait until the last minute to start evaluating your options.
Read the fine print. If you are enrolling in Medicare for the first time, it’s important to understand how the plan works, what it will cost you (premiums and out-of-pocket expenses) and under what circumstances you can make coverage changes. Also, make sure to verify your medications will be covered and your preferred physicians or hospitals are included.
If you’re already enrolled in a Medicare plan, you should have your annual notice of coverage from your carrier already. Stop and read it. Take note of premium changes or benefit changes that could increase your costs. Understand what’s changing about your plan and whether it still meets your needs. If not, take action and get help to re-evaluate your plan.
Do your homework. Your choices not only impact your pocketbook, but also your overall well-being. It's important you take the time to seriously evaluate all of your Medicare options and weigh them against your specific needs. Before you begin, consider these questions:
- How is your health? Have your needs changed since last year?
- Do you anticipate any significant life changes this year, like a move?
- What prescriptions are you taking?
- Are there specific doctors that you want in your medical plan?
- What type of premium can you afford?
- Do you have a chronic condition?
As you are researching your options, ask your friends and family about their plans. What do they like and dislike? Getting advice from trusted family members and friends is a good way to get information on how a plan operates, the service it provides and the turnaround time on claims payments. Remember that you have unique health and financial considerations, so look for a plan that is right for you.
Shop around. Medicare exchange marketplaces, which work similar to other online shopping marketplaces, offer hundreds of Medicare plan options and insurance companies that allow you to sort and filter by price, insurance company and other criteria to find a plan most suited to meet your needs.
With the advent of Medicare exchange marketplaces like Aon Hewitt Navigators, you can leverage on-line decision support tools that help you learn about the basics of Medicare and compare a variety of local Medicare insurance products quickly and conveniently in the comfort of your home. Licensed advisors are also available by phone and can help you if you need additional support.
Take advantage of tools and help. There are a number of tools and resources available today that can help simplify this often complex process. For those retirees who want to change to another plan, it’s important to know that in some cases, you might have to answer medical questions to make a change to a Medicare Supplement plan (Medigap). It is a good idea to speak with someone to understand the circumstances under which you can change plans.
Many organizations offer online tools that help you compare plans side-by-side and make trade-off decisions on providers, coverage and cost. You also can speak directly with a licensed benefit advisor who can help guide you through the decision making process, help you understand the various types of coverage, assess your needs, choose a plan and complete enrollment.
If you’re new to Medicare, you can visit medicare.gov, a robust site that will provide you with information and guidance on things to consider, along with steps you need to take. You can also look for events in your community focused on choosing a Medicare plan. It’s important to make sure that these events are hosted by unbiased and independent partners who can help you make an objective decision.