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What to do for Medicare open enrollment before it's too late

By Alessandra Malito

The deadline for the annual enrollment period is Dec. 7

The Medicare annual enrollment period ends on Dec. 7 - and even if you plan to make no changes, reviewing your coverage could save you money.

Retirement Tip of the Week: It may be the last minute to make changes to your Medicare health plan, but take advantage of the enrollment period before it's too late.

Many enrollees may not feel it's necessary to check coverage options if they're content with their existing plans, but that could cost them. More than seven in 10 Medicare beneficiaries didn't compare their coverage during the annual enrollment period in 2018, according to the nonpartisan think tank KFF, partially because the process can be so complicated. In some cases, they may pay $1,000 or more for ignoring the deadline because the right plan isn't the one they currently have.

Many factors determine the "right" Medicare plan, including location, in-network doctors and facilities, prescription drugs and other medical necessities. Plans are also subject to change from year to year, which enrollees would be notified of before the upcoming year.

Just because a plan worked one year doesn't mean it will be the best choice next year, said Terri Swanson, president of Aetna Medicare. "These things change."

Here are a few last-minute tasks to consider before the open enrollment window closes on Dec. 7.

Compare prices

Comparing plans could take a lot of time, but reviewing the costs for medicine and health expenses under a current plan and one or two others could save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. The National Council on Aging's BenefitsCheckUp tool can quickly offer eligible enrollees programs to parse through. also has a tool to find and compare coverage. Users with an account on the site will get a summary of their current coverage, along with drugs or pharmacies they use, to help compare costs.

Look at Star ratings

Medicare beneficiaries can use Star ratings to understand the quality of a health plan. Star ratings are based on up to 40 quality and performance measures, depending on the type of coverage, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. "It is a way to measure the performance and quality of the Medicare Advantage plan," Swanson said.

For example, around 42% of Medicare Advantage plans with Part D for 2024 have earned four or more stars, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Almost three-quarters of enrollees in Medicare Advantage with Part D plans are in contracts for coverage that earned four or more stars.

Talk to someone - including yourself

Still need help? There are resources, such as the state health insurance assistance program (known as SHIPs). Every state has its own program, offering counseling services to beneficiaries who have trouble making sense of their options.

In these last few days, go through a checklist of questions to ask yourself, including what your copay at the doctor's office is, and if there are any additional medications you'll be taking in the new year. Check that your doctors and medical facilities will still be in-network in 2024, or what other changes may occur with your current plan in the new year.

Look to the next deadline

Medicare Advantage has its own open-enrollment period, which is between Jan. 1 and March 31. This period allows anyone who is already in a Medicare Advantage plan to switch to another Medicare Advantage plan with or without drug coverage, to add drug coverage or drop that plan to go back to Original Medicare. This is separate from the current open enrollment period, since those who have Original Medicare can't join a Medicare Advantage plan during the period beginning in January.

-Alessandra Malito

This content was created by MarketWatch, which is operated by Dow Jones & Co. MarketWatch is published independently from Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal.


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12-05-23 0930ET

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