Time to start shopping for Medicare: 5 tips

Posted at 7:00 AM, Oct 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-07 19:28:45-05

The holidays are near, but before we kick the shopping into overdrive, it's also time for many Arizonans to shop for something else.

We are nearing the open enrollment period for health insurance and for those 65 and older, the annual election period for Medicare is already underway. While choosing an insurance plan can certainly be daunting, the added stress of sorting through Medicare rules and red tape can be overwhelming.

Here, Desert Schools Financial Servicesoffers advice on managing your Medicare elections.

1. Confirm your eligibility to enroll in Medicare

Medicare Advantage - To join a Medicare Advantage plan, you must live in the service area of the Medicare Advantage Plan you'd like to join, AND you must also have Medicare Part A and B.

Medicare Part D - If you'd like to join a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, you must live in the service area of the plan you are considering and must also have either Medicare Part A and/or B.

2. Evaluate your current coverage for your needs

Make sure to review your current Medicare coverage before the Annual Election Period to determine whether or not it's meeting your health

care needs. You might explore joining a private Medicare plan to obtain coverage that's not currently included in Medicare Part A and Part B (Original Medicare). Advantage plans do vary in the benefits they offer, but all are required to meet the basic coverages offered in Original Medicare. Remember that prescription drug coverage is not included with Medicare Part A or B and can be obtained with Medicare Part D or a Medicare Advantage Plan that includes drug coverage. If you're already covered by Medicare Advantage and/or a Medicare prescription drug plan, you must carefully evaluate any coming changes to your plan. These are mailed out ahead of each Annual Election Period and will come in the form of an Evidence of Coverage and Annual Notice of Change form. 

Make sure to review this document for any changes that affect you specifically, like current medications that you take that may no longer be covered.

3. Shop around

After you've evaluated the coverage you need, it's important to also compare prices, even if you're happy with your current coverage. Medicare plans can vary greatly in coverage and what they pay for services and prescription drugs -- better and more affordable plans may exist. Make sure to compare plan ratings, as well. All Medicare Advantage and prescription drug plans are rated on a scale of 1 to 5 stars and are evaluated for quality and customer satisfaction.

4. Know that enrolling in a Medicare plan may affect your other insurance

In the case of veterans' or retiree benefits, some programs may cover services that Medicare does not. Some programs require Medicare coverage to maintain eligibility, while enrollment in Medicare may actually cause you to lose your benefits altogether. In these cases, it's important to speak with a benefits administrator to assist in the evaluation of such decisions. 

5. Check with your providers

If you have a long-time provider that you'd like to stay with this next year, make sure to check with them to make sure they will continue to accept your Medicare plan.

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The information listed may not reflect the capabilities or practices at Desert Schools Federal Credit Union, but is rather meant to serve as a unbiased advisement and support of the financial health of our community.