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Making the Most of the Medicare Annual Election Period

(StatePoint) Medicare Advantage (MA) plans are increasingly popular, offering robust benefits including vision, health, dental, drug coverage and more. For the more than 22 million people with an MA plan, the Medicare Annual Election Period (AEP), running from Oct. 15-Dec. 7, is the only time each year when they can shop for alternate plans.

“Health care is one of the most important investments you’ll ever make,” says Brian Evanko, who heads Medicare for Cigna, which serves more than 3 million Medicare customers nationwide through its various plans. “For those unsatisfied with their MA plan, the AEP provides a valuable opportunity to shop for a new one that better meets their specific needs.”

Weighing your options this AEP? Consider the following tips from Cigna:

• Review changes. In late September, health plans send their current MA customers a document known as the Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) with information about plan changes for the upcoming year, including costs, benefits, available doctors and facilities. Don’t overlook this important document in the mail. It can help you determine if you need to change plans.

• Weigh extras. When comparing plans, pay attention to extra benefits not available in Original Medicare and consider whether you’re likely to use them. Some of the most popular are dental, vision, hearing and no-cost access to fitness programs. Others might include over-the-counter drug coverage and no-cost transportation to doctors and pharmacies.

• Consider other factors. Beyond cost, consider the doctors and facilities included in any given plan, making sure it includes your favorite physician. Check drug coverage, prices on your regular maintenance medications and whether it’s easy to see specialists. Also pay attention to copays (how much you’re required to pay out-of-pocket for doctor visits) and the deductible. Are they affordable?

• Know yourself. Learn as much as you can about the different plan types and choose one that best suits your budget, lifestyle and health status. Of course, priorities change, which could prompt a need for a plan change.

• Don’t forget prevention. Many MA plans cover health screenings beyond those covered by Original Medicare. Talk to your doctor about which screenings are important for you given your age and health status. Some MA plans may even provide rewards, such as gift cards, for completing certain screenings.

• Get assistance. Plan Finder, found at medicare.gov/find-a-plan, is an online tool available through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services that helps you compare premiums, costs of medications and more. You can see how plans are rated from one to five stars based on different quality measures. Additionally, many insurance plans offer seminars at no cost and with no obligation to sign up. You can also check health plans’ websites or call their customer service for more information. Local and state agencies on aging also connect older adults and caregivers with resources.

“Medicare is a great program, but it can be complicated, especially for those who are new to it,” Evanko advises. “Seek out third-party resources and talk to friends and family who have been through the process, asking questions until you understand your options.”

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Photo Credit: (c) monkeybusinessimages / iStock via Getty Images Plus

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