5 Easy Medicare Enrollment Steps

1. Don’t wait! Open enrollment used to happen in November and December. But starting last year, the start and stop

1. Don’t wait!
Open enrollment used to happen in November and December. But starting last year, the start and stop dates are earlier. The reason? It gives the federal government and private insurance plans plenty of time to mail out new ID cards and plan details by January 1. There’s another bonus to the time change: No more fitting Medicare decisions in with holiday shopping, cooking, traveling, and celebrating.

But if you’re the type who used to wait and look things over in late December, write yourself a note to get started soon. “I went to a senior expo recently and a lot of people didn’t realize the annual enrollment period happens earlier this year,” says Adrienne Muralidharan, senior Medicare specialist for the Allsup Medicare Advisor, a private, fee-based plan-selection service that helps Medicare beneficiaries choose plans. “Earlier enrollment is a good thing, but it means remembering to start reviewing your insurance much sooner.”

2. Check your mailbox for important information about your current plan.
Insurance companies are required to send you information by September 30 about cost and coverage changes to Medicare Advantage and Part D plans for 2013, as well as notification if your plan will be cancelled. These documents include the Annual Notice of Change, an updated drug formulary, updated lists of participating doctors and pharmacies, and the Evidence of Coverage for 2013, which contains all the fine print about what’s in your policy.

Keep these. It’s important to read through the Annual Notice of Change to see how your plan’s costs may be changing and to make sure your doctors and pharmacy are still participating, Muraliharan says.

3. Set aside time to review your current Advantage, Prescription Drug, and/or Original Medicare plans.
Evaluate how well your current coverage did in terms of costs, convenience, and health coverage in 2012. Then compare other options available in your area using the government’s www.medicare.gov website.

4. Need help? Consider using an expert.
If your best friend or favorite daughter-in-law isn’t up to speed on the ins and outs of Medicare, you may be better off with a well-trained, impartial advisor who is. These resources can help:

Medicare: You can call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) for around-the-clock assistance to find out more about coverage options; TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048.

State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIP): Every state offers one-on-one help from trained advisors. Find contact information at medicare.gov/contacts/organization-search-criteria.aspx

Area aging agencies: Medicare has been working with senior centers and other local organizations to provide Medicare Part D education and assistance in your community. To find help, contact your local aging agency. Call 800-677-1116 to get your local number.

Private, fee-based advisors: An impartial advisor who isn’t paid or employed by a health insurance company is your best choice. A review may cost $75 to $350 or more.

5. Make your 2013 choices official.

To switch between Medicare Advantage Plans, just join the one you’ve chosen. You’ll automatically be disenrolled from your old plan when the new coverage starts. If you’d like to switch to Original Medicare, contact your current plan or call 1-800-MEDICARE.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest