October 15th begins Medicare’s annual Open Enrollment Period and it will last until December 7, 2017. Over the past four years, I’ve written over 30 pages in this column about or related to the Open Enrollment Period. A couple of years ago I called the Editor of the Mogollon Rim News prior to the enrollment period and told her that I didn’t know what more I could say. She was quick to remind me that every year new people have moved to the area and a new group of people are turning 65. Not everyone in the area may have read all those columns. Some may have unanswered questions regarding their insurance and how the enrollment period may relate to them. My editor is a pretty smart lady. Once again, I will follow her advice and look at some of the questions and answers that may be germane to this topic. The subject is once again on TV, radio, in the newspapers, and the media in general. Our mailbox has been full of advertisements from many of the insurance carriers promoting their products. It really can be a confusing time for many, but also a good time to take a few minutes to make sure that we have the insurance that we really want and need. Here are some things to consider:
- Many of us will have no need to do anything. If you really understand your current coverage and any changes being made to it, and if you’re satisfied with it and with the premiums that you’re paying, there may be no need to make any changes.
- If it’s been a while since you’re reviewed your coverage and you’re uncertain about some of the benefits or potential changes in benefits or costs, you may want to consult with a specialist. (This is our busiest time of the year.)
- If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, your benefits are guaranteed for one calendar year. Beginning January 1st each year, benefits can change, rates may be adjusted, and some policies may not be renewed. It can be a regional decision. By the time this is published, you should have received notification of any changes by mail. Some counties or states may not renew policies, while others may not be affected. The enrollment period allows for these changes by giving the insured the right to change Advantage plans and/or companies offering Advantage plans during this time, regardless of age or health.
- The same is true if you have a stand-alone prescription drug plan (Part D). You can keep, discontinue, or change prescription drug plans during the same enrollment period. This is also the time that you will find out about any changes being made to your premium.
- If you have a Medicare supplement policy, no changes will be made regarding the benefits. Each company decides if and when any premium changes will occur. You may change from one supplement to another or one company to another anytime during the year if you can qualify. This will require answering health questions on a new application. The same conditions apply if you want to change from an Advantage plan to a supplemental plan.
There are special enrollment times for special situations, but this is the time that most changes are made regarding Advantage plans and prescription drug plans. One of the things that we try to emphasize when we meet with people turning 65 is to take the time to explore your options. This is the time when you will be guaranteed issuance of any policy that you choose at standard rates and regardless of your health. This is when you want to get it right the first time. Supplemental plans are guaranteed to be renewed for the rest of your life, if you pay your premiums on time.
We often meet with people that have not made the best choice for coverage when they turned 65. Unfortunately, quite often it’s after they have a serious health issue and find that the coverage they chose is inadequate for their current needs. Their options at that time become limited. Often, the price of the coverage is mostly what determines their decision. The cheapest plan is not usually the most comprehensive.
None of us have a working crystal ball. We can’t see the future, but if we look around us, we know that health issues tend to occur more often as we age. We know our family’s health histories and if we are subject to a higher risk of some illnesses. We’ve met people that were amid a serious health issue when they turned 65. Their questions were always about coverage and seldom about price.
Years ago, I met with a man who was soon turning 65. He invited me into his dining room where he had all the leaves in the table and the brochures and information neatly organized and spread on top. He had taken copious notes and as we spoke, beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. He appeared to be like a doctor in the middle of a difficult surgery.
It doesn’t have to be such a gut-wrenching experience and it doesn’t have to occur each year during the Open Enrollment Period. I just received my 2018 copy of Medicare & You in the mail this week. If you’re over 65, yours should be coming soon. Don’t throw it away with the junk mail. It’s something you might want to look through and keep for future reference. If we can help, give our office a call.
Some of you know that my health changed drastically just before I turned 66. I can speak from experience. Because I had been in this business such a long time and heard so many sad stories, I bought a policy far more comprehensive than my needs were at age 65. The medical bills would have been staggering. I am so glad that I followed my own advice.
Orion Steen is a licensed agent and specializes in Medicare supplemental plans. He has been advising his clients on life and health insurance matters in Arizona for over 45 years. He can be reached for related questions by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, call toll-free 888-846-6891 or cell 623-846-6891.