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Don’t forget to check out all Medicare options

Medicare open enrollment period is quickly approaching.

While most Americans have been so wrapped up in the upcoming election, presidential candidate debates, the coronavirus and everything else that’s affecting all our lives, I thought it might be wise to take a moment to remind you of that. Medicare open enrollment is a topic that affects many readers of this newspaper, and certainly, it’s one that should not be allowed to slip through the cracks.

The annual open enrollment period runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, and allows Medicare plan enrollees to re-evaluate their coverage, whether it’s Original Medicare with supplemental drug coverage, or Medicare Advantage, and then make changes if they choose. The changes will become effective Jan. 1.

According to Medicare resources.org, here is a more specific list of what Medicare beneficiaries can do during open enrollment: Switch Medicare Advantage plans, meaning you can switch from Medicare Advantage back to Original Medicare or vice versa; join a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan; switch from one Part D plan to another; or drop Medicare Part D coverage entirely.

In other words, this is the time to shop around.

This newspaper’s Business Editor Ron Selak recently interviewed some experts on the topic and wrote about open enrollment, stressing the key is understanding and choosing the right plan. Indeed, that is easier said than done.

In many cases, it’s difficult or impossible to predict what your specific health care needs will be in 2021, and once you choose your plan, you’re locked in for the next 12 months.

But the most important issues you should know and consider when choosing a Medicare plan are what you can afford to pay out of pocket if you get sick; what you can afford to pay each month for a premium; do you travel or live several months out of state; and what other benefits are important to you.

Now, Medicare offers an original plan that still is managed by the federal government, along with others that are managed by private companies approved by Medicare. These options can be switched during open enrollment.

Here’s a quick synopsis of that breakdown:

l Original Medicare: This includes hospital insurance, Medicare Part A, and medical insurance, Medicare Part B, but does not include prescription drug coverage. For that, you can join a separate Medicare drug plan, also known as Part D. Original Medicare lets participants use any doctor or hospital in the U.S. that accepts Medicare. And in addition to Part D, users have the option to take advantage of supplemental Medigap to help pay out-of-pocket costs.

l Medicare Advantage: The advantage plan includes Parts A and B, and usually Part D, and may have lower out-of-pocket costs than original Medicare, but in many cases, participants need to use doctors in the plan’s network. Also, most plans offer other benefits such as hearing, vision and dental.

Remember, you must consider signing up for Medicare as you approach age 65 — even if you are not yet drawing Social Security. While the two programs are interrelated, participation in one doesn’t necessarily mean you must draw the other.

Enrollment period for Medicare begins three months before the month of your 65th birthday and ends three months after your birthday. If you miss your Medicare enrollment window, you can do it during the next general enrollment period, but if you wait too long, especially to sign up for Medicare Parts B and D, it could cost you. There are financial penalties for signing up too late, so if you are approaching age 65, do your research and understand the costs and requirements.

At the end of the day, I suggest you shop around. You have a few months, but don’t delay. If you’re thinking about switching, it’s time to get started on your homework.

Linert is editor of the Tribune Chronicle and The Vindicator.

blinert@tribtoday.com

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