I’m sure you’ve met those annoyingly proactive people who have all their holiday shopping done by the Fourth of July. I am certainly not one of those people, but there are certain events where it’s necessary to be prepared well in advance. The annual Medicare Open Enrollment Period is one of these instances. It runs from October 15 through December 7 each year, and when it comes to researching and comparing all available options, sooner is always better than later.
Caregivers have a lot on their plates. When we’re overwhelmed, the natural human response is to deal with the “have-to” tasks first and put off the “need-to” tasks until they become more urgent. However, procrastinating on Open Enrollment could have medical and financial implications that last throughout 2020.
Now is the perfect time to do some research and make a few preliminary calls to get an idea of what changes (if any) need to be made to your loved one’s Medicare coverage. Preparing before the enrollment period begins can prevent you from scrambling to get the information you need and making knee-jerk decisions. Try to complete at least one of these six steps each week, and you’ll be ready to tackle Open Enrollment in no time.
- Make sure you familiarize yourself with the different parts of Medicare and how they work together. If you come across any terminology you don’t understand, brush up at the My Medicare Matters website.
- Does your loved one have a Medicare Advantage Plan (also known as Part C)? Is that still working well? Make a point of opening all mail from the private insurance provider that arrives in September and October so you can be on top of any changes to premiums, deductibles, copays and provider groups.
- If your care recipient has a Medicare Supplemental Insurance policy (also known as Medigap), make sure you pay attention to any premium increases. At some point, you may need to consider switching to a different policy, dropping this policy or switching to an Advantage Plan.
- If you have been spending a lot of money out of pocket on hospital visits and doctor’s appointments (because your loved one doesn’t have Medigap or a Medicare Advantage Plan), now is the time to add up those costs and decide whether a different mix of coverage is a more affordable solution. It’s also worth looking into public programs that can assist with covering costs, such as Medicaid, a state Medicare Savings Program or the “Extra Help” program.
- Go to Medicare.gov and look up the location of your local State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). There are SHIP offices in every county, the District of Columbia and U.S. Territories, but they may go by different names. For example, Florida calls theirs the Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders (SHINE) Program. They often put on public presentations in the fall that cover changes in Medicare for the coming year. They offer one-on-one counseling as well, but appointments tend to fill up quickly. All of their services are offered free of charge. Now is the time to become best friends with your local SHIP counselors so that they will remember you if you have a last-minute question.
- The other part of the equation is making sure that you have up-to-date information about your loved one’s health status. Are they due for an appointment with their primary care physician? Will they need a referral to see a specialist in the near future? Make sure you have a current list of all their medications and know exactly why they are taking each one. If any of their prescriptions are brand name, ask their doctor or pharmacist if there are generic equivalents available. If not, be prepared to ask your loved one’s Part C or Part D plan for an exception if the expensive brand-name medication isn’t part of their formulary.
If you are a Medicare beneficiary yourself, do not forget to factor in your own open enrollment needs. Caregivers are notorious for looking out for everyone BUT themselves. Have you taken care of your preventive visits this year? Is your current coverage both sufficient and affordable? Use the above tips to create an Open Enrollment game plan for yourself as well. Perhaps you are turning 65 in the next 12 to 18 months. Your new contact at the SHIP office can assist you with weighing your own coverage options and ensure you do not miss any important deadlines.
Help yourself by making sure you are ahead of the curve. The holiday season ramps up quickly, and even twenty minutes of preparation here and there can save you hours of frantic work in December!