Each year, Medicare enrollees have the opportunity to make changes to their existing coverage. It's known as the program's open enrollment period, and it kicks off on Oct. 15 and lasts all the way through Dec. 7. Here are a few ways you can make the most of this year's open enrollment period -- and secure the best coverage possible for yourself.
1. Review your drug plan options
Traditional Medicare is broken down into several distinct parts. Part A, which covers hospital visits, is free for most enrollees, while Part B and Part D, which cover diagnostics and prescriptions, respectively, charge participants a premium. But whereas Parts A and B don't give you a choice in the coverage you get and what you pay, there's a host of Part D plans you can choose from -- and open enrollment is the optimal time to pick the right one.
When evaluating your Part D plan options, you'll need to do a few things. First, take a look at your prescription needs and see if they've changed over the past year or if you expect them to change in the coming year. Next, take a look at the specific drug coverage each Part D plan offers, and weigh that against the premium it wants to charge you. Keep in mind that drug plan formularies can change from year to year, so the same medication that cost you little in 2018 could become far more expensive in 2019. That's why you'll need to look not just at premiums but at how your medications are treated under each plan.
2. Consider a Medicare Advantage plan
With traditional Medicare, you need to choose a drug plan on top of Parts A and B for comprehensive coverage. Or there's another option: signing up for an all-inclusive Medicare Advantage plan instead. During open enrollment, you can move from original Medicare to an Advantage plan. You can also switch Advantage plans if your current one isn't working for you.
Why might you move from traditional Medicare to Medicare Advantage? For one thing, Advantage plans often cost less while offering a wider range of services. Original Medicare, for example, doesn't cover necessities like dental care, vision, and hearing, but you'll often get coverage for these services through Medicare Advantage. Another benefit of Medicare Advantage is that many plans offer overseas coverage, whereas traditional Medicare does not. If you're planning to travel a lot next year, that could be a good reason to switch to an Advantage plan.
Of course, there's a flip side, and it's that with an Advantage plan, you might be limited to a smaller group of providers or medical facilities. Still, it pays to do some research and see if an Advantage plan makes sense for you.
3. Get help
Navigating the world of Medicare can be confusing, so if you're already spinning your wheels, be sure to take advantage of Medicare's plan-finder tool. There, you'll be able to enter some basic information, and the program will get you started with some plan options that might meet your needs.
The moves you make during open enrollment could shave a bundle off of your healthcare costs next year. So don't wait -- a few hours of research could make one of your largest monthly expenses far more manageable.