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Medicare Annual Enrollment Period 2021

The Medicare Annual Enrollment Period (AEP), sometimes called Medicare Open Enrollment or the Medicare Annual Election Period, starts on October 15.

If you’re eligible for Medicare, you’ll probably receive lots of information over the next few weeks and throughout AEP. And this information can be overwhelming.

But we’re here to help you with this useful Medicare guide. So let’s dive into the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period, what it is, how to prepare, and what you can do during AEP.

Then, we’ll cover some tips for choosing the right Medicare plan for your healthcare needs.

What is the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period?

The Medicare Annual Enrollment period happens each year from October 15 to December 7.

During this time period, you have the option to make changes to your Medicare coverage. Your new coverage would then take effect January 1.

But if you’re satisfied with your current Medicare coverage, you don’t have to take any action during Medicare AEP. There are no penalties involved if you do nothing.

Medicare plan details can change annually, though, so it’s wise to review your Medicare coverage each year. We’ll cover more on this shortly.

What’s the Difference Between Medicare AEP and the Medicare General Enrollment Period?

The Medicare Annual Enrollment Period is sometimes confused with the Medicare General Enrollment period, which is January 1 to March 31 each year. It’s important to understand the differences between the two enrollment periods.

The Medicare General Enrollment Period is for Medicare beneficiaries who didn’t sign up for Medicare Part A) or Part B when they first became eligible and aren’t eligible for a Medicare Part B special enrollment period. The AEP, however, is for beneficiaries who are already enrolled in Medicare and want to change their Medicare coverage.

What Changes Can I Make During the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period?

The first thing to know is that you cannot use the Medicare Annual Election Period to enroll in Medicare Part A or Part B for the first time.

But if you’re enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B and you’d like to change your Medicare coverage, here are some things you can do during the Medicare Annual Election Period:

  • Change from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan.
  • Change from one Medicare Advantage plan to another.
  • Disenroll from your Medicare Advantage plan and go back to Original Medicare.
  • Change from one prescription drug plan (Medicare Part D) to another.
  • Enroll in a prescription drug plan.
  • Cancel your prescription drug coverage.

5 Tips to Prepare for the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period

There are many Medicare insurance carriers and plan options, but there are several steps you can take to be a savvy shopper and choose the right plan for your unique needs.

1. Mark Your Calendar

This may seem like an obvious tip, but it’s worth mentioning: Mark your calendar for October 15 through December 7 if you’d like to make a change to your Medicare plan.

You might even set aside a few hours to research and compare Medicare Advantage plans and Prescription Drug plans ahead of October 15. These plans announce their benefits for the next year starting on October 1.

Writing down these Medicare AEP dates and to-dos will help you to commit to these priorities.

2. Review Your Medicare Annual Notice of Change

You’ll receive lots of information over the next month or so, so if you’re currently enrolled in a Medicare Advantage or Prescription Drug Plan, the Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) is one piece of mail you’ll want to read.

Your Medicare plan will mail your Annual Notice of Change letter to you by September 30. The ANOC letter will inform you of most changes to your Medicare health plan, including coverage and benefits that will take effect on January 1, 2022.

Each year, your Medicare health plan sets the amounts it will charge you for premiums, deductibles and other services. Medicare doesn’t set these rates - but your insurance company does. With this in mind, the amounts you pay could change each year.

While evaluating your current Medicare plan, you may want to ask yourself questions like:

  • Did the plan cover the services I needed?
  • Did I use out-of-network providers?
  • Did I spend more out of pocket than I originally anticipated?
  • Has something changed with my health (new diagnosis, new prescriptions, etc.)?

The ANOC will also provide a side-by-side comparison of your current plan and next year’s plan benefits, costs and other changes (if any).

Moral of the story: Don’t toss this piece of mail aside. Always review your ANOC to ensure your plan continues to meet your needs on an annual basis. And if you don’t receive your ANOC by September 30, contact your Medicare insurance company.

3. Make A List of What’s Important To Your Health

Keeping a list of what’s important to your health is an invaluable way to prepare for the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period.

Start by writing down all of your doctors, preferred health care facilities and hospitals, and prescription drugs, if you take any.

We also recommend making a list of value-added benefits that may fit your health, lifestyle and budget.

For example, you may be someone who likes to keep active and have social interaction. So a fitness program like SilverSneakers, which gives you access to a network of gyms and other programs, might be a good fit for you. A Medicare Advantage plan may provide these types of fitness or wellness programs.

Another thing to consider is whether or not you have an elective surgery planned for 2022. If so, you’ll want to check your hospital-specific benefits under your current Medicare Advantage plan.

4. Check Your Plan’s Drug Formulary

Your Medicare plan’s drug formulary will not be included in your Annual Notice of Change, so be sure you call your insurance customer service representative to see if your prescription drugs will be covered for the 2022 plan year.

If your prescription drugs aren’t covered, it’s wise to use the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period to find a plan that does cover them.

5. Talk To Your Doctor

Another “Medicare must-do” is to make sure all of your doctors and healthcare facilities will remain in network with your current Medicare plan. If they aren’t, you may want to take advantage of the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period.

So be sure to ask your doctor if he or she plans on changing health plan affiliations over the next year.

What Are The Benefits of A Medicare Advantage Plan?

Understanding your Medicare plan options - starting with a Medicare Advantage plan - is a smart first step to take because you can switch, enroll into or disenroll from Medicare Advantage plans during AEP.

Medicare Advantage plans, otherwise known as “Medicare Part C” or “MA Plans,” bundle Original Medicare (Parts A and B) services into one plan. While Original Medicare offers you a number of benefits, it may not cover health and medical services you might need.

Medicare Advantage plans might be an attractive option because some plans include extra benefits that could save you money. These benefits may include:

  • $0 monthly plan premiums
  • Prescription drug coverage
  • Dental, vision and hearing coverage
  • Access to fitness programs
  • Rides to medical appointments
  • Help managing certain chronic conditions (congestive heart failure, COPD, diabetes)

Medicare Advantage plans may also cover a number of in-home services to keep you safe and healthy at home, especially during these uncertain times due to the coronavirus pandemic.

These benefits may include:

  • Telemedicine services (also known as telehealth)
  • Home-delivered meals
  • Home-delivered prescriptions
  • Private home aides

Another potential perk of Medicare Advantage plans is that they include annual out-of-pocket maximums, which means your costs will be capped.

But it’s important to note that Medicare Advantage plans vary by county and zip code. One way to compare Medicare Advantage plans and get Medicare quotes is through our easy-to-use quoting tool. Just enter your zip code to see Medicare Advantage plans that are available in your area.

More Medicare Options for People With Kidney Failure

One major change happening for the 2021 plan year is that people with End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), also known as kidney failure, will now have the option to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) estimates that more than 80,000 people living with ESRD will enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan by 2026 - a significant increase of 63%.

Medicare Advantage plans may provide ESRD patients with better coverage compared to Original Medicare. Many Medicare Advantage plans include access to coordinated care, which helps ensure all your doctors are on the same page regarding your treatment.

What Are Medicare Advantage Special Needs Plans?

Medicare beneficiaries also have access to Medicare Advantage plans designed for unique needs. These are called Special Needs Plans (SNPs). Like other types of Medicare Advantage plans, SNPs vary based on location.

You may be able to switch to a Special Needs Plan during the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period if one of these situations apply:

  • You’ve been diagnosed with a serious medical condition by a doctor. There are SNPs for certain chronic conditions, such as kidney and heart failure, diabetes and dementia. Services are tailored to the specific condition the plan covers.
  • You need or have received skilled nursing care for at least 90 days at your home or at an institution, such as a nursing home or long-term care facility.
  • You qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid. Medicaid eligibility is based on your income and assets. If you qualify, Medicaid will pay most of the costs for your Medicare Special Needs Plan.

Special Needs Plans include all the same benefits as regular Medicare Advantage plans, plus some expanded coverage.

For example, all Special Needs Plans must include prescription drug coverage, which is usually tailored to the specific condition the plan covers. Although most regular Medicare Advantage plans include prescription drugs, some do not.

Some SNPs also provide a care coordinator to help you stay on track with your doctor appointments and treatment plan.

What If My Income Has Changed in 2021?

The coronavirus crisis has affected the financial well-being of many Americans, including those on Medicare. If you’ve experienced a decrease to your income or assets, the Medicare AEP 2020 season is a great time to switch to a more affordable plan.

If you have limited income, you might qualify for extra savings on Medicare costs through these programs:

  • Medicare Savings Programs. These programs help pay for some of your Medicare Part A and Part B out-of-pocket costs, such as copays, deductibles and premiums. Most programs are for Medicare beneficiaries who also qualify for Medicaid. And as mentioned, Medicaid covers the majority of your costs when you join a Medicare Advantage Special Needs Plan. You can check if you qualify through your local Medicaid office.
  • Medicare Extra Help. Extra Help reduces your Medicare prescription drug plan costs. You should contact Social Security to check your eligibility for Extra Help if you have an existing Medicare drug plan or you join one during AEP.

How To Enroll During the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period

To enroll in an eligible plan during the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period, you can visit Medicare plan comparison websites like healthinsurance.com or Medicare.gov. Or, you might prefer to talk to a licensed insurance agent to get help enrolling in Medicare.

Whatever option you choose, be sure to have 3 items handy before you enroll in a plan or make changes to your current plan during AEP:

  • Your Medicare card
  • Your list of doctors, prescriptions and what is important to your health
  • Pen and paper to take notes

More on Medicare Eligibility

Medicare is a federal health insurance program developed in 1965. To be eligible for Medicare you must meet one of the following criteria:

  • You are age 65 or older
  • You are under age 65, disabled, and have been receiving Social Security disability benefits for at least 24 months.
  • You have End Stage Renal Disease or Lou Gehrig’s Disease (also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS).

You can visit Medicare.gov to see if you’re eligible for Medicare and calculate your estimated premiums for certain plans.

How To Find A Medicare Advantage or Prescription Drug Plan

You don’t have to go it alone when choosing a Medicare Advantage plan or Prescription Drug Plan. We’re here to help you navigate the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period through a number of ways, including:

You can also call 800-620-4519 to speak to a licensed insurance agent about your options.

You can also read through some of our articles to learn more about Medicare.

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