The annual Medicare renewal period is here, that brief period of time provided by the government to renew or apply for Medicare coverage. Whether you’re just turning 65 or you’ve had Medicare for a while, wise adults will take the time to review all of their options before signing up for another year of coverage.
Health care and adequate insurance coverage is vitally important for older Americans. Medical and health care expenses are seemingly always on the rise, and retirees often live on a fixed, limited income. It’s a source of concern for most older Americans, who often battle with rising costs of everything from groceries to utilities to medicine. And yet, most Medicare recipients don’t shop around when it’s time to renew or replace their Medicare plans.
A recent online survey of Medicare-eligible Americans conducted by WellCare Health Plans, Inc. looked at the seniors’ living expenses and their impact on overall budgets. These living expenses included groceries, housing, cable/internet, transportation and health care expenses. Results showed that most respondents viewed health care expenses as the largest burden on their lifestyle and budget, ahead of utilities, food and cable services.
However, when asked about comparison shopping, close to half reported shopping for deals on groceries, gas for the car and even homeowners and car insurance, yet only a third shop for Medicare plans. This can be a costly mistake. Plans and coverage change, and we only get one chance a year to review Medicare coverage and shop for the best plan. Unfortunately, research also indicates that shopping for Medicare coverage is viewed as a chore and a burden. 58% of the respondents in the survey ranked reviewing their Medicare coverage as one of the most unpleasant experiences, second only to a colonoscopy.
Granted, it can be confusing, especially when enrolling for the first time. Seniors are deluged with direct mail, online ads, television commercials, and many other messages selling Medicare and prescription drug plans. There are so many variables, and it can be difficult to go through the process. Do you want Original Medicare or a Medicare Advantage? What about prescription drug coverage? Do you need a Medicare supplement plan? Many people don’t know where to turn for help.
A good place to start is medicare.gov where you can customize your information and search for plans available in your region. There, you can also get free personalized help from your State Health Insurance Assistance Program. If you don’t have internet access, you can call 1-800-MEDICARE for information and help. If you work with an independent insurance broker who specializes in Medicare, you will also find the help you need there.
Selecting the right coverage starts with a few simple basics. If you want to keep your doctors, look for a plan that is accepted by those practices. Visiting a physician who is not a part of your plan could mean personal responsibility for payment. Next, look for a plan that includes your preferred hospitals and other ancillary services, like laboratories or outpatient care.
Prescription drugs are the next consideration. Medicare Part D is prescription drug coverage, and each plan has a formulary, or list of approved prescription drugs. When you apply for Medicare, you will be asked to list all of your current medications to find a plan that best meets your specific needs. It’s extremely important to sign up for Part D coverage the first time you enroll in Medicare or you will probably have to pay a penalty for late enrollment. Also check any current coverage you may have from employers or unions to see if it may change when you begin receiving Medicare. Some Medicare Advantage plans include prescription drug coverage, so check the plan for details. And if you have limited income, you may qualify for Medicare’s Extra Help program for additional savings on your medications.
Finally, consider the deductible. How much can you afford to spend out-of-pocket each year? Don’t sacrifice coverage for a low deductible. Services that are not covered in a low-deductible plan could end up costing you more in the long run, like prescription eyeglasses.
While it’s impossible to predict the future, do consider all of your health needs when selecting or reviewing a plan. Joint replacement in your future? Chronic health conditions? Be realistic about what may lie ahead, and consider what services and physicians you will need. Make sure there are no gaps in your health care coverage. The results could be devastating both personally and financially.
When you take these factors into consideration your choices will narrow, making it easier to choose the correct plan. It’s always better to make an informed decision, and with so much hanging in the balance, it’s the right thing to do.