Medicare open enrollment season starts

Officials, media urge seniors to closely review changing options while shopping for medicare coverage this year

During the annual Medicare open enrollment period, it’s always prudent of seniors to take a look at their existing Medicare coverage and make sure they’re getting exactly the coverage they need. But this year, with health reform legislation recently passed and Medicare changes in the news, a careful review of Medicare coverage options is more important than usual.

The 2010 Medicare open enrollment season is from November 15 until December 31 [2015 edit: the annual open enrollment period changed in 2011.  It’s now October 15 to December 7]. This annual election period – also known as the annual coordinated election period – gives Medicare recipients an annual opportunity not only to reevaluate their coverage, but to switch Medicare Advantage plans, switch from Medicare Advantage back to Original Medicare, join a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, switch to a different drug plan, or drop Part D coverage entirely.

Changes getting a lot of attention in 2011 include a significant reduction in the number of Medicare Advantage plans (13 percent fewer, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation) and a smaller number of Part D prescription drug plans (PDPs). The good news is that there will still be an average of 33 PDPs to choose from per state, and, in 2011, low-income beneficiaries will have increased access to no-premium Part D plans. [2015 edit: Beneficiaries in 2015 have access to an average of 18 Medicare Advantage plans, and 30 stand-along prescription drug plans.]

With the consolidation of plans, as many as one million Medicare recipients will have to choose new coverage. We hope they’ll all take their time and compare carefully.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has great advice on how to compare your prescription drug plan, and US News & World Reports has seven more enrollment tips.

Or, if you have a lot of time on your hands, you might simply re-read your Medicare & You booklet for a full review of how open enrollment works.

The point is that it doesn’t matter how you compare your Medicare coverage, as long as you do take the time to compare.