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Medicare Open Enrollment: What you need to know

Industry News | Nov 17, 2016

Medicare's annual Open Enrollment Period is here, and these next few weeks are crucial to ensure you have an appropriate health care plan in 2017.

What is Open Enrollment?

The Medicare Open Enrollment Period runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, you're able to change, add or drop your coverage. Keep in mind that you can't use this period to enroll in Part A or Part B for the first time.

What you can do is switch to a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan if you've previously been on Original Medicare. Additionally, you can also add a Part D prescription drug plan to your coverage, My Medicare Matters stated.

"The Medicare Open Enrollment Period runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7."

Any changes you make during the Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug Coverage Annual Open Enrollment period will be enacted Jan. 1.

What if I already have a plan?

The Open Enrollment Period isn't just for individuals looking to switch to Part C or add coverage for prescription drugs.

If you're currently on a Part C plan, use this time to review your benefits for next year. You'll also want to compare your existing plan with others on the marketplace, as you may find one that better suits your needs. In addition to covering doctor office visits and hospital services, Medicare Advantage plans may include added benefits such as vision, dental and hearing. Pay attention to your health needs because the Part C plan you had last year may no longer be suitable for the future.

Additionally, you'll want to see if there are any changes to the network. A network consists of doctors, pharmacies and hospitals that negotiate prices with insurance companies. You can cut medical costs by staying in-network.

The same ideas apply if you're enrolled in Part D. According to Time Money, your drug plan will automatically renew if you don't request any changes.

However, by researching other options you may be able to lower your prescription drug costs. Lowering expenses is crucial, especially when the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates Part D monthly premiums will increase by 9 percent.

Costs are arguably the biggest factors you need to consider during the Open Enrollment Period. You have to account for monthly premiums, deductibles and drug prices. If you review and make potential changes to your Part D coverage, My Medicare Interactive stated you can save nearly $300 or more every year.

"The Part C plan you had last year may no longer be suitable for the future."

What should I look for?

Medicare Open Enrollment is the most important time if you're currently receiving Part D benefits because it's your one opportunity to make any changes. But what exactly should you look for?

First, you'll want to create a list of every medication you take and how much you pay. Whether you're currently enrolled in Part D or not, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the plan cover all of my medications?
  • Do I need special permission before obtaining any medications?
  • How much will each drug cost?
  • How expensive are monthly premiums and the deductible?
  • Can I substitute a more expensive drug with a cheaper one?

You'll then want to compile a list of questions regarding which pharmacies you can use:

  • Can I fill out a prescription at my regular pharmacy?
  • Is it possible to fill a prescription while traveling?
  • Am I allowed to receive medication by mail order?
  • What happens if I go to a pharmacy that isn't in-network?
  • Will my drug plan work with my other coverages?

Medicare's Annual Open Enrollment Period can't be ignored if you enrolled in Part C, Part D or both. Take the time to carefully review your plans and what you're entitled to in 2017, and don't hesitate to shop around to help lower costs.