Dear Savvy Senior: I’m considering making changes in my Medicare coverage during the open-enrollment period. Can you recommend any free resources that can help with my choices? — Swapping Senior
Dear Swapping: As you may already know, each year during Medicare’s open enrollment — Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 — Medicare beneficiaries can change their coverage without penalty. Doing so, given that insurers are constantly tweaking their plans and offerings, could help lower your premiums and/or give you access to better care. Any changes take effect Jan. 1, 2019.
To get help with your Medicare decisions, a good starting point is to get re-familiar with the primary parts — traditional Medicare, Medicare Advantage, supplemental (Medigap) policies and prescription-drug coverage — Medicare publishes an excellent guide called “Medicare & You” at Medicare.gov/medicare-and-you.
If you are enrolled in Medicare Advantage or a Medicare Part D prescription-drug plan, it’s important you read your “Annual Notice of Changes” and “Evidence of Coverage,” which should have arrived in the mail in September. These documents explain how your existing coverage will change in 2019 and how much you’ll pay.
Next, go to Medicare’s online “Plan Finder” tool at Medicare.gov/find-a-plan. Enter basic information — your Medicare number and prescription drugs (name and dosage) — and receive a list of possible health-care plans in your area, the costs involved, drug coverage and customer-satisfaction ratings. Or, you can call Medicare at 800-633-4227 for information.
If you want personalized help with a Medicare specialist, contact the Medicare Rights Center or your State Health Insurance Assistance Program.
The Medicare Rights Center is a nonprofit group (Medicare Interactive.org) that offers a free national helpline (800-333-4114) where staff members answer questions about Medicare and can help you choose coverage.
Your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) provides free one-on-one counseling in person or over the phone to beneficiaries, as well as family members and/or caregivers. See Shipta Center.org or call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116.
If you’re interested in choosing a new Medicare Advantage plan, read the HealthMetrix Research Cost Share Report at MedicareNewsWatch.com. This free website lists the best Advantage plans by area based on your health status.
You can also get free assistance from an agent or broker who specializes in Medicare-related insurance. These people get paid a commission to sell you a policy from the insurance providers they represent.
It’s important to understand that commission-based agents and brokers will present only the Medicare plans they represent, rather than all the plans in your market. So, you may miss out on some plans that could benefit you.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.