Open Enrollment has begun. Here are the changes.

ConsumerAffairs

The agency warns people about the booby traps of Medicare Advantage plans, too

Medicare's Open Enrollment Period is officially open for business! Now through December 7, Medicare subscribers can compare all their coverage options that become part of their plan on January 1.

Beginning in 2024, Medicare subscribers will get some new pluses – like relationship counseling and telehealth. To get an idea of what’s available and to review a summary of your current coverage, it’s a simple click away.

Then, select "Compare Plan Details" on your summary page to see a side-by-side comparison of how your current plan's costs and benefits will change in 2024.

Even if you’re happy with your current plan, comparing options is worth the time. For one thing, with the dramatic changes in prescription costs, you can input your prescription medications to get better estimates of your prescription drug costs at local pharmacies.

Your health care needs may have changed, too, and there may be another plan that serves those changes better than your current one. “Think about which benefits matter most to you, and explore all your coverage options to find your best fit. You could save money, find better coverage, or both,” the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said.

Medicare expert simplifies what’s going on

Medicare isn’t as straightforward as everyone would like it to be. There are formularies, donut holes, Medicare Part C, the list goes on and on. ConsumerAffairs reached out to Stephanie Abt, an independent insurance broker and founder of the Abt Insurance Agency, to lay out the things you can do during the Open Enrollment period. She put together this explainer video that explains things in simple terms.

“However, it's important to know that when it comes to Medicare Supplement/Medigap plans, there is no annual 'open enrollment' period for these plans. Medigap plans generally have only one open enrollment period, and that begins when you are new to Medicare Part B,” Abt reminds seniors.

“So it's important to keep in mind that depending on your situation, you may have to pass through medical underwriting in order to change or enroll in a new Medicare Supplement Plan during this fall Annual Election Period.”

'Honey, Captain Kirk says we should buy this Medicare plan…'

There’s one other thing that Medicare enrollees should know. On September 30, a new rule went into effect that prohibits ads about “Medicare Advantage” intended to mislead people. So, if William Shatner, Joe Namath, or Jimmy Walker comes on TV pitching Medicare Advantage, they are going to have to clearly state what insurance plan they’re advertising. 

And because marketers can be crafty, CMS warns consumers that if they see any pitch using the Medicare logo or card, the marketing company is only trying to fool consumers into believing that a celebrity endorser represents the federal government.

The new rules also require insurance agents and brokers who market Medicare Advantage plans to explain the coverage they’re offering and show evidence that the benefits of a plan are really available in the state or county where a consumer lives.

One last provision that will make consumers happy is that a broker can’t keep calling a person to try and sell them a plan until 12 months after they first asked for information or expressed interest in a plan.

And, of course, there’ll be scams

For scammers, Open Enrollment is like shooting at fish in a barrel: 65 million people trying to figure things out and only having two months to do it. They were out in droves, last year, and they'll be back at it again this year.

“Seniors may be contacted by someone purporting to be from their insurance company asking them to verify information. This is a common tactic of identity thieves trying to trick their victims into providing information,” Scamicide’s Steven Weisman said in an email to ConsumerAffairs.

“They also may be contacted by people claiming to have supplemental insurance programs that will save them thousands of dollars. Here too, you cannot be sure that they are legitimate when they contact you by phone, text message, email or even regular mail.” 

One last gamble Weisman said scammers are likely to try is to send phishing emails that appear to come from your employer requesting you to review and okay your health care benefits. But, if you click on the link to approve those benefits, that click could do you in!

Weisman said that those links are either infected with malware which will wreck your computer until you pay a ransom to get it removed or lead you to a site where they’ll try to trick you into providing personal information that can lead to your becoming a victim of identity theft.

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