The open enrollment period for Medicare is upon us.
Running from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, this period is Medicare enrollees’ annual opportunity to tweak their coverage for 2019.
If you already have Medicare — the federal health insurance program primarily for folks age 65 and older — start by reviewing the “plan annual notice of change” document that your plan should have sent you last month.
If you’re newly eligible for Medicare or will become eligible soon, start by finding out when your initial enrollment period is. That’s the seven-month period during which you can first sign up for Medicare — and it does not necessarily overlap with the open enrollment period.
Don’t delay these steps. Signing up for Medicare coverage is a complex process, and fine-tuning your coverage during the open enrollment period can be intimidating as well.
For a smoother process, review the following key facts before proceeding.
1. You’re not alone
Medicare can be confusing for both new and existing beneficiaries. The latest edition of the “Medicare & You” guide that beneficiaries receive every year is 120 pages.
If you find yourself overwhelmed, know that help is out there.
One free option is the State Health Insurance Assistance Program, or SHIP, for your state or territory. Federal grants fund these programs, which offer counseling and assistance to Medicare beneficiaries. To learn more about them, visit the national SHIP website.
2. There’s an alphabet soup
Medicare is so complex that even its alphabet doesn’t make much sense. Still, fully understanding the ABCs of Medicare is critical to making the right choices for your health and budget.
The two main types of Medicare coverage are known as Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage.
Original Medicare plans are coverage you obtain directly from Medicare. This type of plan includes:
- Medicare Part A (hospital insurance)
- Medicare Part B (medical insurance)
If you opt for an Original Medicare plan and also want prescription drug coverage, known as Medicare Part D, you must buy such a plan separately.
Medicare Advantage plans are offered by private insurance companies, like HMOs and PPOs, that are approved by Medicare. A typical Medicare Advantage plan includes:
- Medicare Part A
- Medicare Part B
- Medicare Part D
3. Medicare is not free
Health care expenses don’t end when Medicare begins. Like private health insurance coverage that you obtain through an employer, Medicare coverage entails costs like premiums and deductibles. Plus, it doesn’t cover all health care-related expenses, as the next section of this article explains.
So it’s perhaps no wonder that two married 65-year-olds who retire in 2018 would need $280,000 to cover their medical expenses throughout retirement, according to the latest annual estimate from Fidelity Investments.