The Medicare Advantage Enrollment period is a time of many opportunities. There is the opportunity to change Medicare Advantage Plans or maybe enroll in one for the first time. But, without proper planing there is also the chance that you could enroll in a plan that is less than suitable for your situation.
Following is a discussion of 3 things you should do prior to enrolling in a Medicare Advantage Plan. This advice is the result of receiving hundred (if not thousands) or emails and comment regarding plan choice… both good and bad.
1. Have an understanding of your current situation
Understanding your current coverage is the first step. There are several scenarios that could lead you to a year stuck in the wrong plan.
If you are currently enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan you should take the time to review your Annual Notice of Change / Evidence of coverage information. The Annual Notice of Change is mailed to all Medicare Advantage members prior to October 1st each year. This notice details any changes to your plan that will become effective for the following year.
Each year plan premiums, benefits or cost-sharing amounts can change. It’s also possible that your plan may not renew for the following year. If you don’t take the time to understand how these changes may affect you, it’s possible that you’ll find yourself in a less than suitable plan.
If you currently get your benefits from original Medicare, with or without a Medicare supplement, you need to know how Medicare Advantage Plans work. I can’t count how many comments or emails I’ve received from people who don’t understand why they can’t go outside of their HMO network for example, and get specialized care that may not be available to them in-network.
If you currently get your medical benefits through your former employer you need to understand that enrolling in a Medicare Advantage Plan will mean that you cannot get that coverage back. Be absolutely certain that you can live with that before you enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan.
2. Have a good understanding of how to compare Medicare Advantage Plans
Choosing a plan because it was recommended by a friend or family member may not be your best move. Everyone’s situation is different and there is no universally best plan. It’s also not a good idea to enroll in a plan based on monthly premium (or lack thereof) alone. Nor are any extra benefits like; dental, vision, hearing or the Silver Sneakers gym membership a good reason to choose a plan. Watch the following video to get an overview on how to compare Medicare Advantage Plans for. The information presented is still valid for the 2017 enrollment period. (You can also watch on Youtube.)
3. Know when and how to enroll
Details of Medicare Advantage Plans are made publicly available on the Medicare website on October 1st each year. Insurance companies and their agents can begin marketing activities at that time as well, but unless you are entitled to a Special Enrollment Period, you cannot actually submit an application until October 15th.
The Annual Election Period begins October 15th and runs through December 7th. If you submit an application, and later believe that there is a better Medicare Advantage option, you can submit another application. In fact, during this enrollment period you could feasibly submit multiple applications, with the last one received, the one on that will become effective on January 1st.
There are several ways that you can enroll in a plan. I’ve written about submitting an application through the Medicare website and why I believe it’s not the best option. There are several online resources where you can compare many plans and submit an application. EHealthInsurance is one such site and you can even speak with a licensed insurance agent toll-free.
The tried and true way to enroll, especially if you have a lot of questions and would like to look someone in the eye and shake their hand is the face-to-face meeting with an agent or broker. But be aware that many Medicare Advantage agents are captive; that is they represent only one plan.
So, before you proceed with Medicare Advantage enrollment:
- Have an understanding of your current situation.
- Have a good understanding of how to compare Medicare Advantage Plans.
- Know when and how to enroll.
Following these steps can help ensure that you enroll in your best Medicare Advantage Plan.