Health insurance is always a hot-button issue in the U.S., but it’s a particularly important subject in the midst of an election year and against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although around 31 million injuries requiring medical attention occur every year across the nation, many of us take our health insurance coverage for granted until we realize we aren’t as protected as we think we are.
Now that open enrollment for Medicare has begun (and will continue through December 7), many seniors may be wondering what their next steps should be. Although 77% of patients use online reviews to find their next healthcare provider, it’s not always as easy to know which health insurance plan to choose — or whether your doctor would even be within your network. What’s more, you may not totally know what is (or isn’t) covered under a particular plan until you find yourself being forced to pay for costs out-of-pocket. To avoid those scenarios, you’ll need to do your due diligence during the open enrollment period and choose wisely.
If you already had a Medicare plan, this is the time when you can change your plan or increase your coverage. For instance, you could decide to switch from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage (or vice versa) or sign up for Medicare Part D (which offers prescription drug coverage). Those who are tempted to stick with their plans from last year out of convenience may find they end up paying a lot more for it. Sources show that taking advantage of the open enrollment period could save a significant amount on premiums while staying on the same plan could cause you to pay more than necessary.
Not only can premiums and co-pays go up, but certain coverages may not be consistent from year to year. Medicare also doesn’t cover everything. Around 40% of Americans have myopia (or near-sightedness) and need glasses, but Medicare doesn’t actually cover eye exams. You may need to consider getting a Medigap plan, also known as supplemental health insurance or finding other ways to save on your coverage to offset out-of-pocket health expenses. It’s also possible that your doctors or prescriptions may not be covered within your network from year to year, so you should always check on this prior to re-enrolling or switching plans.
Many seniors rely on brokers and insurance agents in order to choose the right plans. According to the Trump administration, the average American senior will now have 47 different healthcare plans to choose from — which is an increase of 20% from last year. That’s an overwhelming concept, particularly at a time when in-person meetings are risky for older folks. In fact, just 9% of Medicare recipients living in states with significant coronavirus surges plan to meet with a broker in-person this year, while two-thirds say they plan to contact a broker via phone. Experts are anticipating that digital resources will be more important during this open enrollment period than ever, as well.
The truth is that most seniors won’t actually make a change to their coverage from year to year — but that could be a huge mistake. Look for a mailing from Medicare that covers your annual notice of changes, which will contain any pertinent adjustments made to your coverage and the costs you’re responsible for. Examine this document carefully and make note of any changes you don’t understand. You should also compile a document entailing all of your medical expenses from the previous year, any medications you currently take, and your healthcare providers. That way, when you speak to a broker or agent, you’ll know what to look for when selecting coverage.
Medicare Open Enrollment can be overwhelming for many, but you don’t have to go it alone. Seek out assistance from a reputable agent who can provide you with helpful information — or a community program geared towards providing Medicare plan assistance to seniors — in order to choose the best plan for your needs in 2021.