The television ads are starting. Pamphlets are beginning to fill up mailboxes. What is going on? It is the annual election period (AEP) for Medicare!!
When Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage) was implemented and rolled out in 2006, the AEP was created. Medicare plans can change their premiums, benefits, copays, networks, and drug coverages year-to-year. Medicare knew they needed to give beneficiaries the ability to change their coverages as well once they saw the changes to their current coverage.
The AEP runs from October 15 to December 7 every year. This is the time when beneficiaries can change, enroll, or disenroll from their current Medicare Part D or Medicare Advantage.
Some reasons for changing a plan could be 1) Premiums are increasing, 2) Medicare Advantage plan no longer has a doctor in the network, or 3) Drug formulary drops a needed medication from the covered drugs list.
Beneficiaries’ Medigap plans are not impacted by the AEP because Medigap plans do not change from year-to-year. A beneficiary can change Medigap plans any time of the year if they want, but they will be subject to answering a potential series of health-related questions.
Beneficiaries receive an Annual Notice of Change every September. This letter outlines the changes to the current policy in a side by side comparison so that changes are easily identified. Of course, the beneficiary will be concerned about premium increases, but most importantly about any changes in drug coverage, especially if it is a drug that is taken on a routine basis. If significant changes are made, the beneficiary can shop other plans that will cover the needed medication(s).
In order to shop plans, Medicare has developed an online Plan Finder (www.medicare.gov/find-a-plan). After entering the list of drugs needed, the beneficiary can search available plans. In order to save the list of drugs, an account can be set up under MyMedicare.gov.
Another resource is State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). Local SHIP offices can help beneficiaries understand coverage options and assist with changes.
We encourage clients to take the time to review their Medicare options annually.