Medicare AEP – What You Need to Know About It

by Miriam Bridgeman

Medicare still confuses the smartest of people.  It’s okay.  They don’t make it easy to follow.  Hopefully, if I’ve had the pleasure to sit down with you and discuss Medicare, you feel a bit more confident in understanding the program to make an educated decision.  That’s just it – it’s not a right or wrong choice but an educated decision that needs to happen to ensure the best plan is chosen.  There’s original Medicare, parts A & B.  Then two roads you can travel.  The supplement side gives you lettered choices A through N, and then you need to add a standalone drug plan.  The second road is called the Medicare Advantage plan. That typically includes the prescription plan, but not always. It offers additional ancillary benefits like dental and vision that the supplement doesn’t give you.  Are you still with me?  It’s not too complicated once we break it down.  When the decision on which path you want to take is complete, then we talk about choices within each road.   

So, what is this AEP everyone talks about?  It comes around each year in the fall.  Well, what is it?  AEP is an annual enrollment period.  It is the one time a year where you have to opportunity to review your current Medicare plan, any changes, and new plans available to possibly make a change to a different one.  Medicare supplement plans aren’t in this mix of changes – those can be changed all year long if necessary.  The plans I’m referring to are the Medicare Advantage plan or Part C and the PDP or Part D or Prescription Drug plans.  See confusing, right?  If you are in the Medicare Advantage program, it is a definite to review your current plan changes for the upcoming year.  And if you have a standalone prescription plan, this should be reviewed too.  Did your health change at all?  How about your prescriptions?  Even if they haven’t, plans do change. It’s a good rule to review to make sure you’re not stuck in a plan that has increased pricing, changing major specifics, or just doesn’t cover what you need it to anymore.  When January comes, it’s usually too late to make a change, although there are special enrollment periods where a change is permissible.  Believe it or not, last year, a new client came in, and their prescription plan premium jumped from $15 per month to $45.  This was a huge change just in premium, let alone the coverage.  The husband and wife that were on this plan would have had an increased budget item of $60 per month for the two of them come January if they weren’t reading the annual notice of change letter and were proactive about taking advantage of AEP.  Any major budget swings in retirement can be tough.  I often wonder how many more participants in that plan got stuck with the bill, not knowing they had other options. 

It’s autumn, and the season for AEP is coming.  It runs from October 15th thru December 7th each year.  This is again the time where you can switch plans for the January 1st start of the following year.  You will likely see your mailbox filled with advertisements soon, and if you’re watching TV, no doubt every other commercial will be about Medicare.  Lots of choices to choose from and lots of carriers spending money marketing at this time of the year.  They try to tease you in with free dental and vision and other ancillary benefits that you think my plan doesn’t offer that?  A thorough review of your current plan versus other options is necessary.  Make sure you keep your eyes open for the ANOC (annual notice of changes) to come in the mail, usually by the end of September.  If you receive your paperwork from the company electronically, you should receive an email regarding the critical changes.  This is an important read to see what if any big changes in coverage and premium are happening.  Also, a good reminder to review what you’ve spent out of pocket this past year on your health care.  Is your current plan still doing the job?  Original Medicare may have made changes as well regarding the Part A & Part B premiums and deductibles.  This is a good time to figure out what’s changing for the coming year.  Find an insurance agent that specializes in Medicare and works with all different kinds of plans.  They can help you navigate your way and help you decide if you should stay on your current plan or make a change.

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