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Your Guide to Medicare Open Enrollment

Review your current coverage plans, and make changes by Dec. 7

by Dena Bunis, AARP, September 27, 2019 | 
En español | It’s time to get ready for Medicare open enrollment. Starting Oct. 15, you will have 54 days to assess your current coverage and health care needs and make changes that will serve you best during 2020. Your last day to make changes is Dec. 7.
During open enrollment you can decide whether to switch from original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan or shift from an MA plan to original Medicare. You can select a new MA plan and can also decide whether to enroll in a Part D prescription drug plan or change plans if you already get your drugs through a Part D policy.
You need to pay attention to all of Medicare’s parts: Part A covers hospital and hospice care and some skilled nursing services after you’ve been in the hospital. Part B includes doctor visits and other outpatient services. Part C is Medicare Advantage, which is a combination of parts A and B and usually Part D, which helps pay for prescription drugs.
Medicare experts say the most important thing is not to ignore the open enrollment period.
“People tend not to review their options each year because it’s a lot of work,” says Tricia Neuman, a senior vice president and director of Medicare policy at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. But making the effort will be worth it.
Neuman has some advice about how to proceed: Don’t just look at a plan’s premiums. That’s the easy part. And they aren’t the best gauge of what your total out-of-pocket costs will be during the year.
Check out whether the doctors you see are in the plan’s network you are considering because going out of network can cost you more. Make sure all the drugs you take are covered either in your MA plan or a Part D plan. Taking a drug that isn’t covered or isn’t considered a “preferred” medication could mean you’ll pay more out of pocket. Copays differ among the plans, so be careful to look at what the 2020 costs will be.
For the first time in a decade, the Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services (CMS) has given its plan-finder website a makeover. There’s a new home page, which will guide you to your enrollment journey. You’ll have fewer clicks to find what you need, easier comparisons between original Medicare and MA plans, and more complete information about the differences among Part D choices. The site also includes a cost calculator. 
Also new for 2020 is the ability of MA plans to pay for telehealth benefits nationwide. Virtual check-ins with doctors and other health care providers will now be available to all Medicare beneficiaries.
And CMS is continuing to expand the availability of Medicare Advantage extra services, particularly for the 73 percent of beneficiaries who have chronic health conditions. These benefits range from meals at home to transportation to health appointments to nutrition counseling to safety improvements to your home. Not all MA plans are offering these benefits, so look carefully at their coverage descriptions on the plan-finder site.
You can also get personalized help as you ponder your open enrollment decisions. has an online chat feature available during open enrollment, and the Medicare hotline, 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227), is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 
Monthly premiums for Medicare Advantage plans are expected to drop in 2020 to an average of $23, and Part D prescription drug premiums are also slated to decrease to an average of $30 a month. Premiums and out-of-pocket costs vary for MA and Part D plans based on what the plans cover and where you live. CMS has not yet announced premiums and deductibles for parts A and B.

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