Medicare Open Enrollment for 2018: What to Watch For

Open Enrollment Ahead sign

It's that time of year again: the Medicare open enrollment period for the upcoming year. Let's take a look at what you can do during this period, which runs from October 15 to December 7, and changes to Medicare open enrollment for 2018, also known as the annual enrollment period, or AEP.

During the AEP, you can make a number of changes to your coverage. If you have original Medicare, you can change to Medicare Advantage; the reverse is also true. Medicare Advantage plans, which are offered by private insurers, by law are required to offer all benefits available under original Medicare Parts A and B, though some offer more, such as dental and vision. You may also switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another during open enrollment.

If you did not enroll in Medicare Part D (drug coverage) plan when you were first eligible to do so, you may enroll during the AEP. Be aware that you may be hit with a penalty for late enrollment, however. You may also change from one Medicare Part D prescription drug plan to a different one at this time.

What If I Don't Want to Change My Medicare Enrollment?

So long as your Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D plan will continue to be available in 2018, you don't need to take any action during open enrollment. In most years, some plans are discontinued. If yours is one of them, and you therefore cannot renew your enrollment, you should have received a notice of this from your insurance carrier in advance of the AEP. If you haven't received a notice, you should be in the clear as far as keeping your plan is concerned.

Even if you can keep your plan, you will still want to take a look at your options, since it's possible that your premium or plan benefits may change for 2018. Therefore, it's worth looking at what changes are expected for your plan, and whether those changes might make another plan a better choice for your needs.

Changes to Medicare Coverage in 2018

Over 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries have chosen Medicare Advantage plans. Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was enacted in 2009, these plans have received rebates. Healthcare reform will likely continue to erode these rebates, which may lead to a reduction in the number of plan options available for recipients. As of 2018 there is still generally still a wide variety of plans for people to choose from.

Rural residents, however, may be an exception; just as insurance options in the ACA exchanges have decreased in rural areas, Medicare Advantage options in those areas are increasingly difficult to find. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 147 counties in 14 states have no Medicare Advantage insurer for 2018.

If you think you might benefit from the services of a State Health Insurance Assistance Program, you'd be well advised to call sooner rather than later: the Trump Administration's current proposed budget would eliminate funding for these programs.

As they have in years past, premiums for Medicare Part B are expected to fluctuate again in 2018. Most enrollees in Medicare Part B have their premiums deducted directly from their Social Security checks. In 2017, the Social Security COLA did not cover the increase in Medicare premiums. In 2018, it is expected to.

Every state currently has a State Health Insurance Assistance Program, or SHIP, which can help you sift through your various Medicare enrollment options and evaluate which Medicare Advantage plan might be right for you. These programs are funded by the federal government, and the counseling they offer is free of charge to Medicare beneficiaries. Considering the complexity of the offerings, this is a much-needed service, but it may be in danger.

Although no formal plans to close down SHIPs have been announced, the Trump Administration's current proposed budget would eliminate funding. If you think you might benefit from the services of a SHIP, you'd be well advised to call sooner rather than later. Michigan's SHIP is called the Medicare/Medicaid Assistance Program (MMAP) and can be reached at 800-803-7174.

Lastly, not a coverage issue, but good news for Medicare recipients: beginning in April of 2018, new Medicare ID cards without Social Security numbers will begin to be issued to Medicare beneficiaries. This move is intended to reduce identity theft. The rollout of the new cards is expected to take a year, so all Medicare beneficiaries should have one by April of 2019. As soon as your new card arrives, be sure to dispose of your old one securely, such as by shredding it in a crosscut shredder.

If you have questions about Medicaid open enrollment, contact MMAP or your elder law attorney for guidance before the annual enrollment window closes once again.

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Categories: Medicare

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