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Tips for Your Medicare Annual Open Enrollment Period

Danielle Kunkle - November 15, 2017 11:09 AM

That flurry of Medicare mail that hits your mailbox each year in October can cause some stress. Why are getting a bunch of Medicare mail again, and what are you supposed to be doing with all of that?

Well, the reason is that Medicare Annual Open Enrollment Period in the fall starts on October 15th each year and runs through December 7th. This is the time of year when you can make changes to your Part D drug plans or Medicare Advantage plans.

Here are some of my best tips for surviving the enrollment period and scouting for savings in the cost of your Medicare plans at the same time.

Don’t Worry about Your Medigap Plan

The fall open enrollment period is the time when you can enroll in, disenroll from or change your Part D drug plans or Medicare Advantage plans. It does not affect your Medigap plan. So if you have a Medigap plan, you do not need to worry about shopping that plan right now.

Medigap plans do not have an election period. You can apply for a new one any time of year. Your drug plan, however, can only be changed during the OEP, unless you have a special circumstance that creates a special election period, such as moving out of state.

Since you have any other time of year to change your Medigap plan, use the OEP to concentrate on your drug plan. Find the most savings that you can on Part D, and worry about your Medigap plan when your policy anniversary for that plan comes up, which is when potential Medigap rate increases happen.

Be Aware Your Benefits Are Changing

Many people are happy with their current drug plan so they don’t intend to change. However, some of those people are unaware that their current benefits will change for next year. It can be upsetting to like your current drug plan and then find out in January that all of your copays on generic meds are going up to $5 next year.

Stay informed by reviewing your Annual Notice of Change from your current drug plan. This notice will arrive in September via mail. The ANOC letter will show you a side-by-side comparison from the current year to next year on any changing benefits. So, if your copays are changing or your monthly premium is going up or your deductible is increasing, it will say so.

Sometimes pharmacy networks change too. You might be getting preferred pricing from your favorite pharmacy this year, but if their contract changes for next year, that same pharmacy might be a lot more expensive next year.

Also look out for any medications that are being dropped from the formulary. Let’s say you have a $45 copay on a $200 medication. If you miss reviewing your ANOC letter that notifies you your plan is no longer covering that drug next year, you could spend $2400 next year on that medication if you can’t get an exception.

Should you be enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, watch out for facilities that are coming on or off your network. You want to be sure that your favorite hospitals will still be available to you next year.

Use to Run an Analysis

Medicare has a great Plan Finder Tool to help you. Visit and enter your zip code. You can then enter in each of your medications that you are currently taking. Be sure to list the generic name of the drug if that’s what you take. You can also indicate your preferred pharmacies.

Medicare will crunch the numbers and give you a list of all the drug plans and Medicare Advantage plans available in your county. Part D drug plans will be ranked in order of the plan that gives you the lowest out of pocket on your drug spending. Review the top two or three plans to see what their copays are for the drugs you take at the pharmacy you want. Select the one that offers you the greatest annual savings and least restrictions on your medications.

Final Thoughts

The Medicare Annual Open Enrollment period does not have to be stressful. If you follow the tips above, you can easily spend just 30 – 60 minutes per year to make sure you are always enrolled in the most cost-effective drug coverage for you.  Reviewing your drug coverage each and every year can save you from overspending and occasionally create quite a bit of savings for you.

Danielle Kunkle is the co-founder of Boomer Benefits, an insurance agency specializing in Medicare-related insurance products. They help baby boomers New to Medicare learn about their benefits and coverage options across 47 states.

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