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Medicare open enrollment is time to change supplements, but do your homework first

By Terry Savage, Tribune Content Agency on

Millions of seniors on Medicare have some important decisions to make during the Medicare Open Enrollment period that starts on October 15 and continues through December 7. Lately, that process has been complicated by enticing television and radio ads for Medicare Advantage programs that offer everything from dental and visions benefits to rides to doctor appointments and in-home food delivery in one package for one monthly fee.

Before you make any decisions, here’s a quick overview of what every senior needs to know about the choice is between “traditional” Medicare and Medicare Advantage, as well as the other changes you can make during open enrollment.

Traditional Medicare vs, Medicare Advantage

Traditional Medicare includes Part A, which covers hospitalization, and Part B, which covers physicians, outpatient care, medical supplies and more. But because Parts A and B don’t cover ALL your expenses, such as co-payments, you will also need a Medicare supplement plan if you choose the traditional Medicare option. And you should sign up for Part D, the prescription drug plan — even if you currently don’t take any medications.

Each of those portions of traditional Medicare has a cost — sometimes deducted from your monthly Social Security check or paid by automatic charge to your credit card. And even if you select your options wisely, those monthly bills can add up.

That has led to the growing popularity of all-in-one Medicare Advantage plans, sometimes called Medicare Part C. Big insurers figure their risks and costs, negotiate deals with providers, and then set a monthly premium for coverage. Some Advantage plans have a zero monthly premium, only requiring you to pay for Part B and co-payments.

 

The insurers make money on these plans — and pay for their expensive advertising — by setting limitations you must consider before choosing. They limit the hospitals and physician networks that can be used, and likely charge co-payments for certain services. They may restrict drug choices and refuse to pay for out-of-network second opinions. So it’s important to read the fine print carefully before choosing a Medicare Advantage plan over traditional Medicare.

Once a year you get a chance to change your supplement plan and drug coverage — or switch to Medicare Advantage during the Open Enrollment period.

—Changing Medicare supplements

If you purchase your supplement within six months of enrolling in Part B, you cannot be denied the most comprehensive coverage for health reasons. So, even though it’s costly, pick the most comprehensive supplement. It’s likely you’ll stick with this plan your entire life. But you are allowed to change supplements during open enrollment.

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