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Health Care Buzz: Open enrollment for Medicare

Health Care Buzz: Open enrollment for Medicare

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Wow! Am I the only one feeling bombarded with Medicare Advantage plans or insurance broker companies on TV offering a ton of sometimes difficult to understand “better than traditional/original Medicare benefits?” To help sort through the flood of information, let’s walk through the basics.

Yearly open enrollment period: Oct. 15-Dec. 7.

During this time, it is important to do the research to make great decisions.

1) Do not wait to do an assessment of traditional/original Medicare vs. Medicare Advantage as Dec. 7 is a drop-dead date for changes.

2) If you are new to Medicare (turning 65), there are penalties for signing up late.

3) A master list of the following should be done to ensure the most complete analysis is completed:

  • List of all drugs — names, dosages
  • List of hospitals
  • List of health care providers
  • List of DME or oxygen company being used

4) Part D/Prescription Drug Benefit: Set up your own account. This will allow for the comparison of historical drugs used with a potential new drug plan. It is important to note that drugs can fall into different levels of coverage/tiers with different drugs, different tiers and different coverage packages for different plans. Each Part D plan has its own coverage limits with differing patient out-of-pocket amounts.

5) Medicare Advantage plans sold are per county and are usually insurance companies. Therefore, what is seen on TV may not be offered in your county. Benefit packages, as seen on TV: “zero monthly premiums, dental, glasses, health club membership and home delivered meals” may not be sold nationwide. Some combination can be sold, MA plan specific. Medicare Advantage is Part C Medicare that includes both Part A and B.

6) A listing of Medicare Advantage plans in your area can be found under as well as the “Medicare & You 2021-US Government Medicare Handbook.” This handbook also includes an outline of all Medicare benefits. ( to download the handbook electronically or to order hardcopy booklets.)

7) After doing a quick review of number three, let’s do a review of the MA plans in your county. Assess: a) monthly premiums, b) is Part D/Drug coverage included? c) yearly health deductible, d) yearly drug deductible, and e) in-network maximum out-of-pocket. Each MA plan will be different.

8) Now take a look at Original/Traditional Medicare. Original/traditional Medicare includes Part A/in-hospital inpatient care and skilled nursing home stays (usually no monthly premium as it is based on quarters-worked) and Part B/outpatient hospital, physicians/healthcare providers, DME and oxygen companies. Part B premiums are income based monthly premiums with yearly revisions. Average $144 for 2020. Part D/prescription drug package is sold separately with premiums approximately $35 monthly. Using number three will provide similar guidance in selecting a Part D plan. Another great source is SHIBA – Senior Health Insurance Benefit Advisors-funded by Medicare, available at 800-247-4122.

9) Prior to seeing any health care provider, it is important to ask: Do they accept Traditional/Original Medicare? Do they accept your specific Medicare Advantage plan? Ask every time as Medicare Advantage plans will likely require prior-authorization for any care. Every provider can elect to participate with Traditional/Original Medicare. Every provider can decide to contract with any or all MA plans in the area.

Final thoughts: Identify a trusted insurance agent who has extensive knowledge of Medicare Advantage to help navigate through the MA plans. Agents are paid by the insurance company the same amount regardless of the MA plan that is selected. There is no charge to the Medicare patient. Be prepared to complete a work paper that includes your prescription drug list, your preferred provider list, and compare against a review of MA plans in-network for local or regional services. Out-of-network penalties exist for non-emergent care with MA plans. Original/Traditional is nation-wide with no out-of-network penalties.

Try not to get overwhelmed. Take it step by step by step. Have fun!

UPDATE: The “Medicare 101, Social Security Benefits and Assistance for Senior Boot Camp” has been delayed until the first quarter of 2021. Our community outreach education will resume when it is safe for all of us. See you in 2021.

Day Egusquiza is the president and founder of the Patient Financial Navigator Foundation Inc. — an Idaho-based family foundation. For more information, call 208-423-9036 or go to Do you have a topic for Health Care Buzz? Please share at


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