Resources help seniors prepare for Medicare’s annual election season

Medicare’s annual enrollment period (AEP), often referred to as open enrollment, begins on October 15 each year.

Each year, Medicare health and drug plans can make changes to the cost (premiums), the coverage provided, and the providers and pharmacies in their networks. And AEP is the period during which millions of people with Medicare can generally change their Medicare health plans and prescription drug coverage for the following year.

Here are some tips to help consumers find the best subscription options and costs.

About 22 million people have coverage through a Medicare Advantage plan. That’s about one-third of the total population eligible for Medicare. In some states, such as California and Oregon, as many as 40 to 42 percent of all Medicare eligible have a Medicare Advantage plan. In Alaska it is only one percent and in Wyoming only three percent.

Today, many Medicare Advantage plans offer zero plan costs and multiple additional benefits, all of which sound great. However, they can have a high deductible that can cost you thousands of dollars if you need to be hospitalized.

If you’re choosing a Medicare Advantage plan or considering switching during AEP, it’s important to understand the full package and potential costs you may face.

About 15 million people have opted for Medicare Supplement insurance, also known as Medigap. These plans offer a variety of options identified with alphabet letters, such as A, C, G, and N.

According to the American Association for Medicare Supplement Insurance’s 2020 Medicare Insurance Price Index, there can be wide variation in Medigap insurance prices. The AAMSI Index is a valuable resource for consumers seeking the lowest and highest prices for nearly 100 leading US cities. Cost differences for Medigap Plan G, the most common choice among seniors turning 65, can be significant. In Atlanta, just one of the cities listed, a 65-year-old woman pays just $102 a month or even $244 a month for nearly identical Plan G insurance coverage.

Another important thing to know is that some plans offer household discounts. The potential savings can be up to 14 percent. For those considering Medigap plan coverage, ask about the company’s history with premium increases. This can be a valuable indication of what to expect along the way.

The Medicare.gov website is an excellent resource for consumers. However, experts note that it can be overwhelming to navigate and there are some important things that the government is not telling you. The AAMSI website lists 18 things every consumer should know that the Medicare.gov website may not clearly explain.

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Some of the best resources are local insurance agents who specialize in helping seniors compare plan options and prices. Better people will know which health and medical professionals participate in the various programs and what fellow residents have to say about the specific plan.

A list of Medicare insurance agents can be accessed online. Unlike other websites that want to collect your information for future marketing, this directory is free and completely private to use.

Medicare’s annual AEP lasts only a few weeks and ends on December 7. With some 61 million Americans on Medicare, it’s important to act early in the period. Waiting can be a costly mistake.