Medicare Open Enrollment 2018 Guide to Getting the Best Plan
Not sure exactly what to do during Open Enrollment this year? You’ve come to the right place. During Open Enrollment, you can make specific changes to your coverage. Before you decide whether or not to switch plans, it’s important to review your current plan and read its “Annual Notice of Change,” which you should get in September. This way, you can ensure that your plan will meet your healthcare needs and fit your budget in 2018. Insurance carriers may change costs, coverage and in-network providers and pharmacies each year.
We’re here to help you take full advantage of this year’s Open Enrollment period, also known as the Annual Election Period (AEP), and help you to choose a cost-effective plan for you. You will find the following information on this page:
- When is it?
- What can you do during AEP?
- When you can expect to hear about changes to your plan
- How to join, switch or leave plans during Open Enrollment
- What you should look for when comparing plans
What can you do during AEP?
Your plan costs, coverage, and available healthcare providers and pharmacies can change yearly. During Open Enrollment 2018, you can change your coverage if your plan no longer meets your healthcare needs or fits your budget. These changes will take effect in January 2018. Here’s a complete rundown of everything you may be able to do during Medicare Open Enrollment:
- Leave your Advantage plan for Original Medicare, also known as Part A and Part B
- Leave Part A and Part B for an Advantage plan
- Change companies for your Advantage plans
- Join a Part D plan, also known as a prescription drug plan
- Change Part D plans to go with a company that offers better coverage
- Leave your prescription drug plan
When will I hear about changes to my plan this year?
You will begin getting your annual notice of change notifications about plan changes in September. Plan discontinuation notifications are sent out in October. The plan information for the 2018 plans cannot be shared with beneficiaries until October 1st.
How to switch from Part A and Part B to an Advantage plan
There are multiple ways you may be able to switch, including the following:
- Visiting an Advantage plan’s website and joining online.
- Calling the plan to enroll.
- Contacting a plan for a paper enrollment form to complete and return to them.
You must already be a Part A and Part B beneficiary to join an Advantage plan. You also can’t have End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD).
Since Advantage plans can vary in their benefits, costs and service areas, it’s important to compare plans in your area before switching. A few popular insurance companies you may be able to buy a plan from include Aetna, Regence BlueCross BlueShield, Coventry, and Asuris.
How to Switch from an Advantage Plan to Part A and Part B
To make the switch during the Open Enrollment period, you can do the following:
- Enroll in a stand-alone Prescription Drug Plan.
- Give or fax a signed written notice to the company you have your Advantage policy written with.
- Submit an online request to the company that provides your Advantage policy.
- Call 1-800-Medicare (1-800-633-4227).
Along with the Open Enrollment Period, there is an additional period in which you can disenroll from your Advantage plan and join Part A and Part B. This period is called the Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period, from January 1 to February 14. You can also enroll in a stand-alone prescription drug plan during this time.
Learn more about switching from an Advantage Plan to Part A and Part B here.
How to Switch Advantage plans
To switch your current Medicare Advantage plan to another one, all you have to do is join another plan during the Open Enrollment period. Once you enroll in another plan and start receiving the new plan’s coverage, you will automatically leave your original plan. To join a new Medicare Advantage plan, you may be able to do the following:
- Enroll on the plan’s website.
- Call the plan to join.
- Receive and complete a paper enrollment form from the plan.
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How to join a Part D or prescription drug plan
There are two ways you can get enrolled in a Part D Plan:
- You can join Part D, which adds drug coverage to Part A and part B, select Medicare Cost Plans, specific Private Fee-for-Service (PFFS) plans, and Medical Savings Account (MSA Plans).
- You can enroll in an Advantage plan or another plan that may already include prescription drug coverage. You must be enrolled in both Part A and Part B in order to join an Advantage plan.
No matter which way you choose to get your prescription drug coverage, you can join these drug plans by doing the following:
- Enrolling on a plan’s website.
- Filling out and returning a paper enrollment form.
- Calling the plan.
- Calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).
Note that if you join a Part D plan, you will be disenrolled from your Advantage Plan if it includes prescription drug coverage and returned automatically to Part A and Part B.
If you didn’t join a Part D prescription drug plan or another plan that offers Medicare prescription drug coverage (like some Advantage Plans do) when you were first eligible, then you may have to pay a late enrollment penalty. If you have creditable prescription drug coverage or you receive Extra Help, you may not be penalized.
How to switch or leave Part D or prescription drug plan
You can switch to another Part D plan by joining another drug plan during the Open Enrollment period.
If you want to drop your prescription drug plan, you can do one of the following during the Open Enrollment Period. Note that your changes will take effect January 1, 2018.
- Call 1-800 MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227)
- Write and sign a notice declaring that you want to enroll and mail or fax it to your plan.
- Request to disenroll online, if your plan offers this option.
- Contact your plan and ask for a disenrollment notice. You can then fill it out, sign it and return it to your plan.
What to look for when comparing plans
Even if you’re happy with your current Advantage or prescription drug plan, it’s important to compare plans. You may be able to find a plan with similar benefits at a lower premium from another insurance company, or switch to a lower benefit plan if you don’t currently use all of the benefits your plan offers. You should also review the drugs your prescription drug plan will cover in 2018, in-network providers and pharmacies, and other costs and coverage, as these can change.
Here are some of the most important factors to compare when you’re shopping for Advantage and Part D drug plans:
- Plan quality ratings: You can compare quality ratings for Advantage and prescription drug plans here. These credible ratings range from one to five stars and are based on plan quality and customer satisfaction.
- Service area: You must choose a plan offers coverage in your area.
- In-network healthcare providers: Some Advantage plans may require that you see doctors in the plan’s network in order to be covered for treatment. Make sure to check each plan’s list of providers to see if your preferred doctor, hospital, or other provider is in the network of the plan you choose. You may have to pay more to see out-of-network providers.
- Premiums, deductibles, copayments, and out-of-pocket limits: Some people make the mistake of only comparing plan premiums. It’s important to look at all costs, including premiums, deductibles, copayments, and out-of-pocket limits for medical services, along with coverage rules. Plans with lower premiums may have higher deductibles and copayments.
- Coverage. Take a look at each plan’s covered services to make sure the services you may need are covered. If you are shopping for Medicare prescription drug coverage, take a look at each plan’s list of covered drugs to see if your medication is included and how much the copayments/coinsurance is for each. You should also take a look at the coverage rules on your prescriptions, if any.
- Travel Coverage: If you plan on traveling to another state or country, make sure to see if your plan will cover you.
Important changes that happened in 2017
- Part D Standard Benefit Plan amounts were higher. You may see higher deductibles, initial coverage limits and out-of-pocket thresholds in 2017 if you have a standard benefit plan. Those reaching the donut hole will receive better drug discounts. Learn more about Part D changes here.
- There may be a substantial increase in Part B premiums some beneficiaries.Medicare’s trustees released a report in June that states that premiums could rise up to 22% for Part B beneficiaries with higher incomes. This rise is a result of the rising costs of Part B services and could affect about 1/3 of all beneficiaries.
When changes for Open Enrollment 2018 come out, we will be sure to update this page to give you the latest information.