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Why You Cannot Afford to Ignore the Annual Enrollment Period

Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period is just one month away. By now, your TV stations have probably already been flooded with commercials encouraging you to call a 1-800 number to speak with someone about plans in your area. Celebrities are promoting Medicare plans with unlimited benefits and promising to get you money back on your Social Security check. Sound familiar? 

Before you call any numbers on TV, it’s important you understand what’s so important about the Annual Enrollment Period, what changes you can make, and why you should work with a local Medicare agent when choosing your plans.

What Is the Annual Enrollment Period?

The Annual Enrollment Period, or AEP, happens every autumn from October 15 through December 7. During this time, Medicare beneficiaries are able to learn about upcoming changes to their current Medicare Advantage (Part C) and Part D prescription drug plans. You can shop for new plans as well, and any changes you make will go into effect on January 1.

Here is a list of things you can do during AEP:

  • Change from one Medicare Advantage plan to another.
  • Change from one Part D plan to another.
  • Change from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage.
  • Change from Medicare Advantage back to Original Medicare.

Why Is AEP Important?

Let’s talk about why you shouldn’t ignore this time of year if you’re on Medicare. Most beneficiaries are enrolled in more than just Parts A and B. Typically, they’ll choose to either add a Medigap and Part D plan or enroll in Medicare Advantage, which often has Part D benefits included. Either way, you’re probably enrolled in either a Part C or Part D plan, sometimes both.

Part C and Part D plans operate on annual contracts. That means that they can change every year - and they almost always do. This could include changes to the premium, deductible, cost-sharing amounts, networks, benefits, drug formulary, etc. Sometimes these changes are beneficial, and other times they can have a negative impact on your coverage. A plan that’s working great for you right now may not work as well next year. 

In addition, insurance companies that offer Medicare Advantage and prescription drug plans are always trying to compete with one another. So, even if your current plan isn’t changing, there may be a new plan that would benefit you even more.

How to Prepare for the Annual Enrollment Period

So, how do you know if you should change your plan? Great question!

Your current plans are required to send you an Annual Notice of Change, or ANOC. This document will outline the changes being made to your plan. Oftentimes, they also send you the plans’ Evidence of Coverage (EOC), which shows a breakdown of all the benefits and costs. The first thing you should do during AEP is review these documents and decide if you’ll be happy with the changes. You should receive these documents during the month of September. 

The next step is to schedule an appointment with a local insurance agent. Your agent can review your plan with you and compare it to others being offered in the upcoming year. In addition to comparing benefits and costs, they’ll also make sure your current providers participate in whatever plan you’re considering and ensure your prescriptions are still covered. 

If you decide you’d like to change your plan, the agent will submit the application for you. If you decide you want to keep your current plan, it will automatically renew for the new year. 

The Importance of Working with a Local Medicare Agent

Now, we might be a little biased here at Local Medicare Specialists, but we think it’s very important that you work with a local, independent insurance agent when choosing your Medicare plans. The two keywords there are “local” and “independent.”

Remember all those TV commercials we talked about in the beginning? Calling the 1-800 numbers listed will connect you with a licensed agent, but they probably won’t live anywhere near you. They might be great at their job, but the fact that they aren’t local poses a problem: they don’t know the plans in your area. 

You see, there are hundreds of Medicare Advantage and Part D plans, and they’re different in every zip code. Plans offered in one county might not be offered in a neighboring county. It would be impossible for anyone to know the ins and outs of every single plan on the market. The agent will be able to see a list of the Medicare Advantage and Part D plans offered, but they won’t have a deep understanding of those plans. They won’t know the doctors and hospitals in your area, so they won’t understand the networks as well as a local advisor would. A local advisor will understand how each plan in your area works, and they’ll have a much better idea of the networks in your area.

It’s also important to work with an independent insurance agent. An independent agent is contracted with multiple insurance carriers. That means that they can compare plans and prices across companies to make sure they find the one that best fits your needs and budget. 

Ready to tackle AEP? We encourage you to schedule an appointment with a local Medicare specialist today. We all know how quickly time goes as the holidays draw nearer, so get your Medicare plans reviewed and out of the way so you can enjoy the season!

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