Every year, eligible individuals can shop for a health plan during Medicare’s Annual Election Period (AEP), which runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. Doing so provides the possibility to improve coverage, lower costs or both. The options are many, including Original Medicare, Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, Medicare Supplement plans and Prescription Drug Plans.
This year may make shopping for a plan a little different, but technology can help make the experience easier, and still allow individuals to find the best plan for their needs. It’s the research that’s key.
“It’s always a good idea to do research before making any significant decision, and we are making it as easy as possible to learn about your health care options from home,” said Aparna Abburi, president of the Medicare Advantage business at Cigna. “It might be time to change to a plan that better suits your personal health situation. Or, if it turns out your current plan meets your needs, then you don’t have to make any change at all.”
Visit plan websites like www.cigna.com/medicare or Medicare’s Plan Finder at Medicare.gov, and try to attend a virtual educational session. Prefer the phone? Call individual plans or independent brokers representing the different health plans. In-person meetings can be requested but be sure to follow the COVID-19 safety precautions outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition, make sure to do the following when picking a plan:
Review changes. In late September, health plans send MA customers a document called the Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) with information about costs, benefits, available doctors and facilities for the upcoming year. Check this document to see if anything will change.
Weigh extras. Pay attention to extra benefits not available with Original Medicare but that may be built into an MA plan at no additional cost, such as dental, vision, transportation or even an allowance for purchasing certain over-the-counter items.
Look at benefits that keep you home. This year reinforced the importance of making care available when and where you need it. Consider benefits that make it easy to care for your health from home, such as telehealth, prescription drug delivery and in-home fitness programs.
Know your network. Some plans are limited by network and may impact what doctors are covered, so make sure to review the list of facilities and providers considered in-network. These kinds of choices should be guided by personal goals and preferences.
Consider costs. To estimate total costs, first, know the plan’s premium or monthly cost. Second, check for out-of-pocket costs, including copays and deductibles on doctor and hospital visits and prescription drugs. Finally, check to see what the cost will be if you need to see a specialist. In some plans, out-of-network providers cost more.
Don’t forget prevention. Many MA plans cover preventive health screenings beyond those covered by Original Medicare. Talk with a doctor to determine which screenings are important. Even during COVID-19, preventive care is still very important.
Get assistance. In addition to the resources above, many local and state agencies provide free, objective Medicare plan guidance, including the State Health Insurance Assistance Program. Talk to friends and family about their experiences with different plans, and don’t hesitate to ask questions.
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