It's that time of year again. If you are on Medicare, or are newly eligible, the annual open enrollment period to select or change coverage starts October 15 and runs through December 7.
For starters, you need to review your current plan to make sure it continues to meet your needs. Also, the plan itself might have changed. If so, you may already have received a notice.
Starting this month you should use Medicare’s Plan Finder to search for a plan that meets your needs. October 15 is the first day you can change your Medicare coverage for next year. On December 7, that window closes.
Coverage for the year begins January 1 if you switched to a new plan. If you stay with the same plan, any changes to coverage, benefits, or costs for the new year will also take effect on that date.
If you’re in a Medicare Advantage Plan, you can leave your plan and switch to Original Medicare. If you switch to Original Medicare, you’ll have until February 14 to also join a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan to add drug coverage.
Your coverage will begin the first day of the month after the plan gets your enrollment form. In certain cases, you may be able to make other changes if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.
New to Medicare? Here are some basic things you need to know: Medicare plans are divided into parts.
Part A pays for hospital care, skilled nursing, hospice, and even some home health care. This part is free, providing you or your spouse have been in the Social Security system for at least ten years. If not, premiums can run as much as $407 a month
Part B is more like regular health insurance, covering doctor visits, preventive care, outpatient care, and hospital visits. Premiums are based on income and are deducted from your Social Security payments if you are receiving benefits. In 2015, Part B cost $104.90 a month for Medicare beneficiaries whose incomes are $85,000 a year or less – $170,000 for a couple – and up to $335.70 for those whose annual income is greater than $214,000.
Part C is what is known as a Medicare Advantage plan. It combines parts A and B and, in most cases, Part D, the drug plan. Premiums vary by location and coverage. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the average premium in 2016 will be $32.60. Advantage plans often limit where beneficiaries can get their care.
Part D covers prescription drugs, with premiums of $15 to $50 per month. It isn't required, but here's something to keep in mind; it's cheaper to enroll when you begin Medicare, instead of waiting until you are older.