Fall for many people means cool weather and changing leaves. However, an important event rolls around this time of year as well. From Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, Medicare recipients will have the chance to change their coverage during the annual open enrollment period.
Medicare plans can be confusing, and choosing one is not a decision to be made lightly. As with any health care decision, it's essential to learn all the facts before making any commitments. However, the variety of plans might make it difficult to find the best one for you, and the terminology used to describe them could complicate matters further. Fortunately, the federal government provides resources for insurance seekers, and plenty of news sources offer their own guides.
Don't choose lightly
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' "Medicare and You" pamphlet, even people who are currently on a Medicare plan they're happy with should review their options carefully. Plans can change every year, so you may find yourself with different coverage or costs starting in January. If you decide that your current plan still suits your needs, you don't have to do anything to keep it, even if the terms have changed. However, you may find a better fit by shopping around.
Also keep in mind that finding coverage for a stay in a retirement community can be tricky. Part A Medicare plans may cover skilled nursing services, but won't pay for most of your long-term needs. If you're signing up for a Part C plan, also called Medicare Advantage, during the open enrollment period, you'll have to see what individual services are covered, although gaps are likely with these plans as well. Part D plans may cover any medications you need, though.
Enrollment changes this year
One of the big changes to this year's enrollment period is that there will be fewer plans to choose from. Avelare Health reported that a number of Part D prescription drug plans are being consolidated, leading to a 14 percent reduction in the number of plans being offered. However, that narrower choice could be good news for Medicare recipients. Avelare also reported that many people are expected to end up with lower-cost plans as a result of the change.
Overall, the average Medicare premium should fall about 2 percent. Not everyone will see a drop in their premiums, though. Among the top 10 plans, no net change is expected, since large reductions in some will be offset by increases in others. Just among these 10 most popular plans, premium changes range from 50 percent increases to 30 percent reductions.
Protect yourself from fraud
The Fiscal Times offered one more reason to be careful about doing your homework when choosing a plan. Scammers often target seniors during open-enrollment season, knowing that many will be looking to switch insurers. According to the source, no legitimate insurer will ever contact you unsolicited, so don't give out any information unless you initiated contact and are certain that you're dealing with a reputable company.