Money & Policy

Last-Minute Tips for Medicare Open Enrollment

Check out two new online tools before the December 7 deadline

With less than a week left until Medicare’s Open Enrollment window closes on December 7, I wanted to share a few last-minute tips.

They could save you — or your parents — big bucks when signing up for 2014 coverage through the federal health insurance program for Americans 65 and older.
As my Next Avenue colleague, Caroline Mayer, recently explained, Open Enrollment is the annual period when Medicare beneficiaries can choose, switch, add or drop their health and prescription plan coverage for the year ahead.
2 Reasons to Shop Now
This year, it’s especially important for people on Medicare to do a little comparison-shopping.
(MORE: Tips for Medicare’s Tricky Open Enrollment Season)
Some Medicare Advantage plans  — the federally subsidized private insurer alternative to traditional fee-for-service Medicare — have eliminated coverage for many of their in-network healthcare providers in 2014, so your plan may not offer you the doctors you’ll want. Also, a growing number of Medicare Part D plans (which cover prescription drugs) are jacking up out-of-pocket costs next year.
If you have a Medicare Part D or Medicare Advantage plan, read the Annual Notice of Change you received recently to see how the insurer will alter your coverage and costs next year.
Free, Online Tools That Can Help
To help you make smart choices, the National Council on Aging just added two tools to its My Medicare Matters website.
One is the Rx Savings Calculator, which shows whether you could pay less in Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket costs by switching Medicare Part D plans. After you enter your Zip Code, Part D plan and medications, the calculator instantly shows you how much you could save by switching plans.
(MORE: 4 Mistakes to Avoid When Enrolling in Medicare)
If you learn that you could pay less for a Part D plan with the drug coverage you need, you might then try the site’s other new tool: Medicare QuickCheck. Here, you answer a few questions in the confidential online questionnaire and then receive a free, personalized report with the National Council on Aging’s recommendations on how to shop for, and enroll in, the best plan for you.
The Medicare QuickCheck tool can also steer you to other Medicare savings, so it could be worth trying even if you don’t have a Part D plan.
When to Switch Back to Traditional Medicare
Another last-minute tip, from Bob Rosenblatt’s blog, Help With Aging.com: If you’ve developed a serious illness or chronic condition, you may want to switch from a Medicare Advantage plan to a traditional Medicare plan. That’s because, as Rosenblatt notes, traditional Medicare provides coverage for any doctor or hospital participating in Medicare. You’ll pay more than with Medicare Advantage, but you’ll have more choices of medical providers.
(MORE: What to Do If Your Doctor Won’t Take Medicare)
Using Medicare’s Plan Finder
And a reminder: When shopping during Open Enrollment, don’t forget to check the Plan Finder tool at Medicare’s own site, Medicare.gov.
Just remember it’s essential to compare your potential total costs, not just premiums. You’ll want to see whether, for instance, the plans you’re considering will cap your out-of-network spending. After all, a low premium is no bargain if you’ll get socked with huge costs to see the physicians you need to stay well.

RIchard Eisenberg, editor at Next Avenue wearing a suit jacket in front of a teal background.
By Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. Follow him on Twitter.

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