Open enrollment: Avoid Medicare mistakes

Know your options when choosing or switching to a new plan.

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

Medicare’s open enrollment period is right around the corner, and with it can come some tough decisions to be made by those ages 65 and older. With so many choices and so much information, errors can be easy to make.

“Too many folks get frustrated with Medicare overload,” said Chris Curtis, chief executive officer and co-founder of Medicare Planning of Dayton.

Curtis and other Medicare professionals shared the mistakes they see enrollees make when they are choosing or switching to a new Medicare plan. Here is what they say to avoid:

Missing your Medicare enrollment periods

The initial Medicare enrollment period includes the month you turn 65, as well as the three months before and three months after that. Open enrollment, which allows beneficiaries to make changes to their coverage, occurs annually from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.

Some people also may have additional opportunities to enroll in a new plan, such as if they move or leave coverage from an employer, said Tracy Goodpaster, owner of The Medicare Connection, which has offices in Kettering, Springfield and Cincinnati.

Relying too much on TV commercials

You may not qualify for the Medicare plan you see advertised on television, or it may not even really exist, Goodpaster said. Often what they are advertising is a mixture, combining the best parts of different plans into one that isn’t available.

“They kind of Frankenstein a plan,” she said.

Curtis, too, said that advertisements “only tell you half the truth.” He also says to avoid signing up for Medicare via phone – the person on the other end of the line might not even look up your doctors or medications.

Don’t choose any plan based on marketing materials, said Chris Reeg, director of the Ohio Senior Health Insurance Information Program.

“A lot of it can look so official, so be cautious,” she said.

Choosing the same plan as a spouse or friend automatically

A husband, wife or neighbor could have a completely different set of doctors, prescriptions and health care needs, Goodpaster said.

“Everybody’s different,” she said – and often their Medicare plans should be, too.

Disregarding changes to Medicare plans

Beneficiaries are to receive an Annual Notice of Change by the end of each September that outlines changes such as premiums and coverage. Sometimes the ANOC is only a couple of pages long, but it is important to review.

“Things change every year, and you have to know what’s changed in your plan,” Goodpaster said.

Curtis also recommends making sure that you and your Medicare adviser consider all of the options, including Medicare Advantage as well as Medicare Supplement plans. Your personal needs and lifestyle – for example, if you regularly travel or have doctors in other states – could alter the equation.

“It really just depends what’s important to you,” Curtis said.

Passing over Medicare if you are continuing to work

Always look at Medicare options when you are turning 65, even if you remain eligible for coverage through an employer, Curtis said. Most people will have better and cheaper coverage through Medicare.

Compare facts like premiums, deductibles and maximum out-of-pocket costs, he said.

“Numbers don’t lie,” Curtis said. “It’s pretty easy to figure out if you should go on Medicare or stay on work insurance.”

Paying too much attention to the added features

Some plans come with extras such as gym memberships, hearing aids or fitness trackers. These can add up to thousands of dollars in benefits, Curtis said, but don’t be swayed.

“It is a big deal, but people have to remember what it’s first and foremost about,” Curtis said. “It’s about your health care.”

Instead, concentrate on the included doctors and drug coverage, as well as the customer service you will receive from your adviser, Goodpaster said.

Ignoring your Medicare broker

“We’re here to support you year round,” Goodpaster said.

Beneficiaries can forget the specific details of their benefits, terms and deductibles, and their broker can help them sift through the features of their plan. Some people avoid appointments because they fear a deductible – a deductible that may not even exist with their plan.

Waiting too long

At one time OSHIIP was swamped with calls in October, but now many are procrastinating until the beginning of December, Reeg said. OSHIIP, a program through the Ohio Department of Insurance, provided counseling to 162,000 Ohioans last year and hosted 450,000 in educational activities.

Although people are hesitant to make a Medicare decision, OSHIIP can be relied upon to offer unbiased information on Medicare plans, she said.

Remember that you aren’t alone, and review your plan and choices.

“Doing nothing is a choice,” Reeg said.

About the Author