Minneapolis, MN – As the Medicare open enrollment deadline approaches, seniors face a deluge of TV ads and direct mail flyers that may be doing more to muddy the waters than provide clear answers about Medicare plan costs and features. Based on questions fielded by our experts, medicareresources.org offered the following shopping tips for Medicare open enrollment, which ends Dec. 7.
Be wary of nationwide marketing campaigns
A big focus of the Medicare marketing blitz is Medicare Advantage plans – private coverage that includes a number of benefits not available through Original Medicare. This year, Medicare Advantage marketers are including messages telling seniors they can save on Medicare Part B, which covers outpatient expenses and services and some equipment.
“The No. 1 thing this year is the commercials about the Part B premium giveback,” said Jenny Chumbley Hogue, a Medicare enrollment specialist and analyst for medicareresources.org.
When you enroll in an Advantage plan, you still have to pay your Part B premiums, but some Advantage plans pay a portion of the Part B premium for their enrollees. Most marketers refer to this as the Part B premium “giveback” – but many use the term “buyback.” And while that giveback may sound appealing, seniors considering a plan change should still factor in whether their providers are included and how the plan covers their prescription drugs.
“The problem is these are nationwide commercials and not every area of the country has Part B giveback available, and, even when it is available, it’s not necessarily the best option,” Chumbley Hogue said. “But the marketing is working; I’m being asked about it two or three times a day.”
Understand potential penalties
During Medicare open enrollment, one option for current enrollees is to switch from a Medicare Advantage plan to Original Medicare paired with a Part D plan and possibly a Medigap plan. Enrollees considering Medigap need to know that these plans are only guaranteed-issue in most states during a beneficiary’s initial open enrollment period. So if it’s been more than six months since you first enrolled in Medicare, your Medigap application will likely be subject to medical underwriting.
If you are considering Medigap, you’ll also need a Part D plan to help with your prescription drug costs. However, don’t rely on a marketing call to make sure you have everything you need.
It’s important to know that if you enroll in Medicare Parts A and B and a Medigap plan, but miss the initial enrollment window for Part D, you’ll likely be stuck waiting until the next fall Medicare enrollment period to sign up for Part D. And if you go without drug coverage for more than a couple of months after becoming eligible for Medicare, there’s a Part D late-enrollment penalty (meaning higher premiums) that you’ll have to pay for as long as you have Part D coverage.
Sign up by Dec. 7
There are two highly publicized open enrollment periods happening right now, and they have different deadlines – but only one applies to Medicare coverage. Medicare open enrollment – also known as the annual election period (or AEP) – ends on Dec. 7.
Affordable Care Act annual open enrollment for individual and family plans ends on Jan. 15 in most states, but the deadline to get coverage effective Jan. 1 is Dec. 15. Government messaging about that December deadline appears to be causing confusion for Medicare enrollees.
“HealthCare.gov doesn’t coordinate with Medicare so previous ACA marketplace enrollees are being inundated with calls, emails and texts that say ‘Don’t forget to sign up by Dec. 15,’” said Chumbley Hogue. “If you’re considering changes to your Medicare coverage, the deadline is Dec. 7.”
Find more detailed information about Medicare open enrollment in the Medicare Open Enrollment 2022 Guide.
Medicareresources.org is one of the longest running sources of in-depth information about health insurance for consumers. The site provides an overview of the basics of Medicare coverage options, enrollment and eligibility; coverage FAQs; state-specific Medicare information; and a glossary of Medicare terms.
Amy Fletcher Faircloth, (720) 460-0276