Enrolling in Medicare? Here are a few tips

Published 6:10 am Friday, November 1, 2019

By Peter Cox

MPR News/90.1

Signing up for a new Medicare plan can be a complicated, convoluted process. There are different plans, different insurance options and different windows to use in signing up for different things.

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Anyone over the age of 65, people with disabilities and people with end-stage renal disease are eligible for Medicare.

The open enrollment period, which runs from Oct. 15 until Dec. 7, allows you to switch from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage, or vice versa; to switch Medicare Advantage plans; or switch Medicare Part D prescription drug plans.

The open enrollment period comes with a lot of marketing, a flood of information from people selling plans and even scams. But there are a few places you can go for reliable, unbiased information.

MPR News spoke with Susie Johnson, the assistant manager of the Senior Linkage Line at the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging, and with Kelli Jo Greiner, a health care policy analyst with the Minnesota Board on Aging about key things to think and ask about when signing up or reviewing your Medicare options.

Reliable sources

Johnson says the two best places for reliable, unbiased information on Medicare plans and open enrollment information for Minnesotans are the Senior Linkage Line, which can be reached at 1-800-333-2433 and the plan-finder tool at Medicare.gov.

She said the Senior Linkage Line, which has call centers all over the state, also offers in-person meetings and presentations about Medicare.

“We’re able to talk through options, really ask those questions that folks might know that they need to consider about providers being in-network, prescriptions being covered, what to do if your prescription isn’t covered, what else is out there,” she said.

Double-check whether you can keep your doctor

Greiner says for people who want to keep their current doctor, it’s always worth checking.

“Consider what provider you are currently seeing. Do you want to continue to see them when you go on Medicare? Or if you are already on Medicare, do you want to see them in 2020?” Greiner said. “If you do, and that provider doesn’t participate with the plan you’re looking at, then you are probably going to want to look at other options.”

Cost comparisons

Greiner says weighing out costs of premiums, co-pays, deductibles and prescription drug costs are all key in figuring out which plan will work best for your situation.

“How much can you afford to pay every month for that coverage? Keep in mind that you may pay a lower premium for one plan versus another, but then you could have higher deductibles and higher co-pays and co-insurance,” she said.

Drug coverage

Drugs costs can fluctuate, and for many prescription drug plans, which drugs are covered and how they are covered can change from year to year. Greiner says double-checking those costs every year is essential.

“One of the things that people maybe don’t take enough time to look at is making sure, in Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit, that all their drugs are going to be covered in 2020, and what are those costs going to be?” she said.

Travel plans

Not all plans cover travel outside of Minnesota in the same way. Greiner says figuring that out can help people avoid surprise costs when traveling.

“If they do a lot of traveling, how is the plan or policy going to cover things if something happens when they are out of the network?” she said.

If you are happy with your plan, it never hurts to double-check

Johnson says that even if people are happy with their current plans, it never hurts to compare and it’s always a good idea to check for changes in your policies.

“You certainly can keep the same plan,” she said. “But reassessing each year is important because plans can change from year to year.”

Want to learn more about Medicare enrollment? Get more information at www.mnhealthcarechoices.com. Find a Medicare presentation in your area at www.seniorlinkageline.com.