Medicare provides critical health benefits for millions of seniors. Whether you're new to the program or are already enrolled, the upcoming year has a number of changes in store. Here are five you need to know about.
1. Medicare Part B premiums are going up
Though Medicare Part A, which covers hospital visits, is usually free for Medicare enrollees, Part B, which covers doctor visits and diagnostics, charges a premium for coverage. In 2018, the standard monthly premium is $134, but that figure is climbing by $1.50 a month next year to a total of $135.50. That said, if you're a higher earner, you could end up paying significantly more for Medicare Part B.
2. Medicare deductibles are also going up
When you utilize healthcare services under Medicare, you're subject to an out-of-pocket deductible that must be met before your coverage kicks in. The annual deductible for Medicare Part B will be $185 in 2019, which represents a $2 increase from 2018. Meanwhile, the Medicare Part A inpatient deductible for hospital admittance will be $1,364 in 2019. That's a $24 increase from the current year.
3. Medicare Advantage is getting a new open enrollment period
Seniors who want coverage under Medicare can choose between the original program (which includes Part A, Part B, and a Part D drug plan) or Medicare Advantage. Advantage is an alternative to traditional Medicare that allows enrollees to bundle their healthcare needs (including prescriptions) into a single plan. And since most Advantage plans offer coverage for services like dental, hearing, and vision -- items not covered under regular Medicare -- many seniors ultimately find it far more cost-effective.
Now, if you're already on Medicare Advantage, you might be familiar with its disenrollment period, which has traditionally run from Jan. 1 through Feb. 14 each year. But starting next year, Medicare Advantage will get its own open enrollment period that will begin on Jan. 1 and continue through March 31. If you're enrolled in an Advantage plan, you'll have a chance to switch to a different one, or drop your Advantage plan and sign up for original Medicare instead. Keep in mind that this Advantage open enrollment period is different from regular Medicare's open enrollment, which runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7 each year.
4. Medicare Advantage is expanding its scope of coverage
If you've been on the fence about Medicare Advantage, here's some news that might sway you to give it a try. Effective next year, Advantage plans will have the option to offer lifestyle support services, including home meal delivery, transportation to and from medical appointments, and home safety fixtures (like handrails and ramps). Seniors who enroll in an Advantage plan and need help with daily living activities might also find that the cost of home health aides is covered.
Finally, there's less pressure to commit to an Advantage plan. Starting next year, you'll have the option to try out an Advantage plan for up to three months and switch to another, or original Medicare, if you're not satisfied with your coverage.
5. Medicare's telemedicine program is growing
Many seniors neglect or delay medical care because they struggle with mobility issues. To address this, Medicare has been offering a telehealth program that allows patients and doctors to connect via videoconference. Beginning in 2019, telehealth services will be available to patients who have end-stage renal disease or are in the midst of stroke treatment.
The more you know about Medicare, the better it will serve your needs. Be sure to familiarize yourself with these and other changes that are coming to Medicare next year so you're prepared for what lies ahead.