No, I’m not referring to the holidays, although they’ll be upon us before we can blink. But even sooner we’ll be watching on TV a mixture of political commercials and ads from the insurance companies about the Open Enrollment Period, which runs from October 15 to December 7, 2016.
The Open Enrollment Period is the time of the year when those of you who have a Medicare Advantage Plan must decide what direction you’ll be choosing for the coming year, 2017. If you’ve purchased an Advantage Plan, you have a 1-year guarantee with that plan to receive, should you need them, a set of benefits. You also have agreed to pay specific co-pays, coinsurances, and may have premiums you’ve been paying for the health insurance and/or prescription drug insurance.
At this same time, the insurance companies who offer the Medicare Advantage Plans must make some decisions. They must decide whether they are going to offer the same plans for the coming year, are they going to make changes to those plans, are they going to discontinue offering those plans, or are they going to offer different plans. With any changes usually comes changes in benefits and premium costs. Also, the coinsurance, co-payments, and deductibles are subject to change.
It’s not uncommon for insurance companies to evaluate their various plans and choose whether to renew or not renew them in certain counties and states. We won’t know what changes are in store for 2017 until after October 1. This paper and column will have gone to press before then. We will try to address some of those changes as they occur in future issues. If the past is a good indicator of the future, we anticipate that many companies will be making changes in 2017.
Each year at about this time, I remind you that you will soon be receiving your new copy of Medicare and You from Medicare if you have enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B. This will include valuable information about your Medicare coverage, supplemental coverages that may be available to you, and information about Part D, or prescription drug coverage. Many people have told me that they discard this booklet along with their junk mail, but I strongly advise that you keep it with your other reference material. Many of the answers to the questions you may have are within this booklet.
If the past is any indicator of the future, what it probably will not tell you are the changes in the Medicare Part B premium costs, the new deductibles, and the new co-payments for 2017. These are usually announced after the November elections. We have heard rumors about some of the changes. For those of us who have been paying $104.50 per month for our Part B Medicare premiums, we’ve heard that those premiums may be going up about 25%. We’ve heard that probably all of the deductibles and co-payments are increasing on our Medicare. We also have heard that the increase in our Social Security benefits will average about $2.50 per month per recipient.
I guess the only good news in all of this is that we haven’t had an increase in our Medicare monthly premiums and our Part B Medicare deductible for several years. As we receive the actual figures for these items, we’ll pass them along to you in this column.
I suppose that one of the most common complaints that I hear from you are in regards to the selection (or lack thereof) of doctors that are available. We hear stories all the time about people being assigned to a doctor or choosing from a list of doctors, only to find out later that the doctor isn’t available or is no longer taking new patients. It seems to happen most often to people enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan. Also, many of you are tired of having to make decisions on an annual basis regarding with which plan or company to enroll. Since there are so many options and they change annually, we have the same dilemma, when it comes to the Advantage Plans.
My recommendation, if you’re enrolling in Medicare for the first time or your health will permit you to qualify, is to look into a Medicare Supplement Plan. The premiums are higher than Advantage Plans, but once you’re approved, you’re guaranteed to be renewed with the same benefits every year as long as you pay your premiums on time. You can choose your own doctors and specialists (as long as they take Medicare and new Medicare patients). Once approved and enrolled, with the exception of prescription drug coverage (Part D), you’ll never have to worry about Open Enrollment Periods again. We’ll look at some of those options next month. Meanwhile, if you have any questions, as always, feel free to call our office at 623-846-6891 or toll free at 1-888-846-6891.
Orion Steen is a licensed agent and specializes in Medicare supplemental plans. He has been advising his clients on life and health insurance matters in Arizona for over 45 years. He can be reached for related questions by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, call toll-free 888-846-6891 or cell 623-846-6891.