How to get ready for the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period

Published by Medicare Made Clear®

Your Medicare plan automatically renews at the beginning of each year unless you change it, but you might not get exactly the same benefits. Insurance companies review and refine their Medicare plan benefits annually.

Rather than simply letting your plan renew, it’s a good idea to make sure it will still meet your needs. You have a chance to change your plan during the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) if you decide to. Formerly known as the Medicare Open Enrollment Period, the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period happens every year from October 15 to December 7.

Here are some tips to help you make informed decisions about your Medicare coverage during AEP.

Tips for the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period

Check your Medicare plan for coverage and cost changes

Your Medicare Advantage plan (Part C) or Medicare prescription drug plan (Part D) may change coverage or cost details each year. Changes go into effect on January 1, so you need to understand them when making choices during AEP. The changes a plan makes may include providing new benefits, removing previously offered benefits, updating the list of covered drugs and decreases or increases in various costs.

Plans will provide you with an Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) letter that explains any coverage or cost changes for the upcoming year. ANOC letters are typically sent to plan members in September. Take time to read it and contact your plan provider if you don’t receive one.

Here’s a great article on what to look for in your ANOC.

Review the  "Medicare & You"  handbook

"Medicare & You" is the official government handbook that explains Medicare coverage, costs, enrollment and more. It’s updated every year and you can get a copy here.

The handbook points out new Medicare information and significant changes in store for the coming year, if any. Changes in Medicare rules or policies could affect your coverage, costs or other aspects of your health care, so it’s important to stay up to date.

Think about your health care needs

Your health care needs can change from year to year as well as your Medicare plan. You may need new or different health care services in the year ahead.

You can’t predict the future, of course, but it’s important to account for known or potential health care needs. Consider the following when choosing a plan during AEP:

  • A developing health concern or new diagnosis
  • Planned procedures or surgeries 
  • New medications recommended or prescribed by your doctor
  • A new doctor or other provider you want or need to see
  • Travel plans and the need for health care while away from home
  • Changes in your financial situation that may affect your budget for health care

Make sure your Medicare plan meets your needs

Now that you have done the above – looked at plan changes, reviewed what your plan covers and identified what health care needs you have – it’s time to look more closely at your current plan. To start, evaluate your current Medicare plan and decide how well it will work for you in the coming year. If your plan seems to still be the right fit, you don’t need to do anything to keep it during AEP. You’ll stay on the plan so long as you continue to pay your plan premiums and other costs.

Shopping around for a Medicare plan

If you don’t think your plan will fit your needs anymore, it’s a good idea to shop around for one that does. And sometimes, even if you think your current plan will continue to meet your needs, you may want to shop around just to see if you may find a plan that provides you with even better benefits or lower costs. Insurance companies release new Medicare plan details on October 1, and they are competing for your business, so don’t be afraid to explore your options every year.

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