Medicare’s annual open enrollment period runs from October 15 to December 7–the period when enrollees can shop for new coverage. Now is the time to review your options to determine if you should switch plans.

During Medicare’s annual open enrollment period, you may (1) enroll in a Medicare Part D (prescription drug) plan; (2) change your Part D prescription drug plan if you currently have a plan; (3)  return to traditional Medicare (Parts A and B) from a Medicare Advantage (Part C, managed care) plan (A Medicare Advantage plan is the managed care alternative to traditional fee-for-service Medicare); (4) enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan; or, (5) change Medicare Advantage plans.

If you’re happy with what you have, there’s no need to do anything during the annual open enrollment period. However, if you have Part D prescription drug coverage, or are enrolled in Medicare Advantage, there are at least two reasons to shop for new coverage. First, savings. Medicare enrollees who changed coverage between 2013 and 2014 saved $190 annually on their monthly premiums on average, and lowered their annual out-of-pocket limit by $401. Second, changes in formularies. Part D plans routinely change their formularies–the list of medications that are covered–and the rules under which they are covered. The plan also could drop coverage of a medication altogether. Shopping for new coverage during open enrollment period can reveal all formulary changes in Part D plans.

The best online tool for shopping plans is the Medicare Plan Finder at the Medicare website. It eliminates much of the guesswork in navigating plan choices; it allows you to plug in your Medicare number and drugs (you’ll need each drug’s name and dosage). The tool then displays a list of possible plans likely to meet your needs; their estimated cost, premiums, and deductibles; which drugs are covered; and customer-satisfaction ratings. The finder also will give you advice about drug utilization and restrictions.

Beneficiaries can go to or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) to make changes in their Medicare prescription drug and health plan coverage.

Here are more resources for navigating Medicare’s open enrollment period:

(Based on an article on the ElderLaw Answers website. Donald D. Vanarelli, Esq. is a member of ElderLaw Answers.)  

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