(StatePoint) Every year, eligible individuals can shop for a health plan during Medicare’s Annual Election Period (AEP), which runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. Doing so can potentially improve your coverage, lower your costs or both. The options are many, including Original Medicare, Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, Medicare Supplement plans and Prescription Drug Plans.
According to Aparna Abburi, president of the Medicare Advantage business at Cigna, one of the nation’s largest insurers, those concerned about COVID-19 exposure have a number of ways to shop.
If you’re computer savvy, visit plan websites like www.cigna.com/medicare or Medicare’s Plan Finder at Medicare.gov. You might even be able to attend a virtual educational session. If you prefer phone, call individual plans or independent brokers representing the health plan you’re considering. You can also request a face-to-face meeting, but be sure to follow the COVID-19 safety precautions outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Abburi said you’ll want to think about the following when picking a plan:
Review changes. In late September, health plans send their MA customers a document called the Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) with information about costs, benefits, available doctors and facilities for the upcoming year. Check this document to see if anything in your plan will change.
Weigh extras. Pay attention to extra benefits not available with Original Medicare but which may be built into an MA plan at no additional cost, such as dental, vision, transportation or even an allowance for purchasing certain over-the-counter items. In these times, you might be especially interested in benefits that help you stay healthy while safe at home, such as telehealth, prescription drug delivery and in-home fitness programs.
Know your network. Beyond cost, make sure the plan’s network includes your favorite facilities and doctors. Are you okay seeking care within a network? These kinds of choices should be guided by your own personal goals and preferences.
Consider costs. To estimate total costs, first, know the plan’s premium or monthly cost. Second, check for out-of-pocket costs, including copays and deductibles on doctor and hospital visits and prescription drugs. Finally, check to see what the cost will be if you need to see a specialist. In some plans, you pay more for going outside your network.
Don’t forget prevention. Many MA plans cover preventive health screenings beyond those covered by Original Medicare. Talk to your doctor about which screenings are important for you given your age and health status. While it’s smart to minimize your risk to COVID-19, you still want to make sure you’re getting preventive and other necessary care. Your doctor will have proper safety protocols in place.
Get assistance. In addition to the resources above, many local and state agencies provide free, objective Medicare plan guidance, including the State Health Insurance Assistance Program. You should also talk to friends and family about their experiences with different plans and companies. Don’t hesitate to ask questions.
“It’s always a good idea to research any significant purchase, even during these times, and especially when you can do it from home,” Abburi said. “It might be time to change to a plan that better suits your personal health situation. Or, if it turns out your current plan meets your needs, then you don’t have to make any change at all.”
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