Color of Money: Don't get paralyzed by open enrollment -- just do it

Michelle Singletary on

"The biggest mistake people make in open enrollment is to choose the cheapest plan without making certain it is the right fit for them," said Carolyn McClanahan, a physician turned certified financial planner. "For example, some plans include the requirement that the deductible must be met before prescription drug costs are paid, so if you have a $6,000 deductible, no drugs will be paid until you hit that number. People who are on expensive medications will want to make sure they choose a plan that will cover drug costs early."

McClanahan says the most important thing when picking a health care plan is to make sure your preferred doctors and hospitals are in the network. Also, be sure you understand your pharmacy coverage and medical deductibles. "If you are a low health care user, it might be OK to buy a cheaper plan with high deductibles, but remember that you must have money set aside to meet the deductible if you become ill," she said.

Seniors who have to make their Medicare choices by Dec. 7 aren't any more enthusiastic about researching their options. In a survey titled "The Cost of Complacency," WellCare Health Plans found that seniors are more likely to comparison shop for groceries, gas, cable or vacations than take the time to figure out which Medicare plan is right for them.

"The emergence of a new epidemic among seniors -- an epidemic of apathy when it comes to Medicare coverage -- could have a significant impact on the financial health of seniors," said Michael Polen, a WellCare executive vice president.

Looking at Medicare options is so loathed that some survey participants said they would rather get a colonoscopy.

If you're a senior who is overwhelmed by the choices, go to and search for "Medicare Plan Finder." Using your ZIP code, you can get personalized help in comparing plans. You'll need to set aside some time for this, because there are a lot of questions. If you're not good at doing things online, that's fine. Call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

Seniors and their family members or caregivers can also find free local help -- in-person or on the phone -- through State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs), which are in 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Go to and select your location. You'll be taken to a page where you can call a local SHIP or get a link for the local program's website.


McClanahan, who is the founder of the fee-only Life Planning Partners based in Jacksonville, Florida, will join me live at noon Eastern time on Nov. 16 at She'll be available to answer your general open enrollment questions.

I don't like doing my taxes either, and I certainly didn't think getting a colonoscopy was fun. But you've got to push through these things. Open enrollment choices are too important to let apathy and/or confusion prevent you from reading what your company sends or asking for help. Just do it.


Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook ( Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

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