By Greg Dill
Medicare's annual open enrollment period starts Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 7, 2019. This is the time of year when individuals can change how their get their Medicare coverage, switch health and drug plans, and add or drop Medicare prescription drug coverage. So, it's important people review their current coverage. Current enrollment can be checked at Medicare.gov/find-a-plan/enrollment/check-enrollment.aspx.
Individuals who are happy with their current Medicare coverage don't need to do a thing during open enrollment. But people often find they can save money or find a plan that better meets their health needs by shopping around.
To help shop for 2020 Medicare health and drug plans, we've just introduced an improved version of our popular Medicare Plan Finder at www.medicare.gov/plan-compare.
The redesigned Medicare Plan Finder makes it easier than ever to compare coverage options, shop for plans and feel confident in choice. This tool now works on smartphones, tablets and desktop computers.
With Medicare Plan Finder, individuals can:
- Compare up to three health or drug plans side-by-side;
- Get plan costs and benefits, including which Medicare Advantage plans offer extra benefits;
- Build a personal drug list and find a Medicare prescription drug plan (Part D) that best meets needs. We'll start by suggesting prescriptions that were filled within the last 12 months. And when individuals search for a brand name drug, we'll show it along with any lower-cost generic alternatives.
Those new to Medicare will need to decide upfront how they get their Medicare coverage. Medicare Plan Finder can help with this, too. By selecting "Learn more about Medicare options before I see plans," individuals can compare the different ways they can get Medicare coverage — through Original Medicare (with or without extra coverage) or a Medicare Advantage plan.
For a more personalized experience, people can also create their own Medicare account at MyMedicare.gov. Among other things, this account allows individuals to print a new Medicare card if they lose theirs.
About 10,000 people enroll in Medicare each day, and we're improving our online tools to meet the needs of a growing number of tech-savvy beneficiaries. But individuals don't need a computer to get information about their Medicare benefits.
Those who have questions can always call Medicare's toll-free number at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). Customer service representatives are available 24/7.
There's also the "Medicare & You" handbook mailed to every Medicare household in the country each fall. The handbook is available online at www.medicare.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/10050-medicare-and-you.pdf.
And, let me also recommend the excellent free counseling individuals can get from their State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). SHIP is an independent, nonprofit organization that provides personalized counseling to people with Medicare. Individuals can make an appointment to speak with a SHIP counselor in person or over the phone.
SHIP counselors are well-trained volunteers who often are enrolled in Medicare themselves, so they know the ropes. They can help individuals sort through different health and drug plans and help find one that's right for them. They're not trying to sell people any particular product.
To contact a local SHIP office, go to Shiptacenter.org. (In California, the program is called the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program, or HICAP.)
If individuals enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan this fall but they are not satisfied with it, they can switch plans or return to Original Medicare between Jan.1 and March 31, 2020. If people return to Original Medicare, they can also buy a Medicare prescription drug plan (Part D) during this period.
If individuals are having trouble paying for their prescription drug plan (Part D), they may be eligible for the Extra Help program, which helps cover premiums, deductibles and co-pays. Medicare beneficiaries typically save $4,900 annually with Extra Help.
For more information, go to SSA.gov/prescriptionhelp.
Greg Dill is Medicare's regional administrator for Arizona, California, Nevada, Hawaii, and the Pacific Territories. You can always get answers to your Medicare questions by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).