It's hard to believe that end of November is upon us, and that in just about a month's time, we'll be doing a countdown to 2021. But there's another milestone that's coming up sooner -- the end of Medicare's annual open enrollment.
During open enrollment, seniors on Medicare have an opportunity to elect different coverage for the coming year. And at this point, there's only about a week left to do so, what with open enrollment wrapping up on December 7. If you've yet to finalize your plan choices for 2021, here are a few last-minute tips that might help.
1. Don't just look at premiums
Though Medicare Part B charges a standard monthly premium, the amount you'll pay for a Part D drug plan or Medicare Advantage plan can vary tremendously. But when exploring your plan choices, you'll need to pay attention to more than just the monthly fee you'll pay to enroll; you'll also need to look at what sort of coverage each plan offers. A Part D or Advantage plan with a lower monthly premium could cover fewer prescriptions or services than a superior plan that charges more, and so ultimately, you might save more money with a higher-cost plan if it results in fewer out-of-pocket expenses.
2. Don't be afraid to try Medicare Advantage for the first time
If you've been sticking to original Medicare for years and have yet to try an Advantage plan, you may be hesitant to do so. But actually, enrolling in Medicare Advantage has become a fairly low-risk prospect. That's because Medicare Advantage now has its own distinct open enrollment period that runs from Jan. 1 through March 31 every year. If you choose an Advantage plan you don't like, you'll have the option to swap it for a different Advantage plan early on in the year so you're not stuck with coverage that doesn't work for you. You'll also get the option to switch back to original Medicare should you so choose.
3. Don't comingle your needs with your spouse's
Just because you have certain health needs doesn't mean the same applies to your spouse. That's why you shouldn't assume you should both sign up for the same plan. If you take prescriptions and your spouse takes different ones, you should each find a plan that offers the best coverage for the specific medications you're on.
4. Look at plan ratings -- but don't rely too heavily on them
Medicare has a star rating system that ranks plans so you can more easily compare your choices. Advantage plans, for example, are rated based on how well they help seniors stay healthy through screenings and managing long-term conditions, as well as how good their customer service is. Part D plans, meanwhile, are rated based on customer service, drug prices, and patient safety. If you've never searched for an Advantage plan before and have been on the same Part D plan for a while but are looking to change, it helps to refer to this rating system, but only as a starting point. A plan's rating will give you a snapshot of how good it is, but you'll need to research each option you're considering in detail before signing up.
Electing your Medicare coverage is no easy feat, and the number of choices you're presented with can be dizzying. That's why you really can't leave your open enrollment decisions to the last minute, so if you've yet to begin the process of reviewing your plan choices, get moving now. If you rush your decision, you could wind up with the wrong plan -- and a host of expenses that drain your retirement income next year.