Medicare open enrollment: if you’re confused, this program can help

Medicare’s annual enrollment period is a time when enrollees can make changes to their health insurance coverage — but they may need help doing so. 

Retirement Tip of the Week: Medicare beneficiaries going through their healthcare options may want to find a qualified, trustworthy person to assess plans. A state health insurance assistance program could help. 

See: With Medicare open enrollment, ‘senior hunting season’ is about to begin

Not all beneficiaries want to change their coverage, but it doesn’t hurt to look at the options available. Choosing the wrong plan could cost a beneficiary hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars, with more money spent in out-of-pocket costs, prescriptions or other fees and procedures. 

State health insurance assistance programs, known as SHIPs, offer Medicare beneficiaries resources and representatives to navigate Medicare on the local level, and are funded by the U.S. Administration for Community Living. Each state, as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, has a SHIP, which individuals can find on the program’s website

Beneficiaries can use these programs for free, unbiased one-on-one conversations with representatives about coverage changes during open enrollment, as well as ask about their eligibility and out-of-pocket expenses. 

Read: Enrolling in Medicare? Here’s what’s covered and what’s not.

The annual enrollment period begins Oct. 15 and ends on Dec. 7. During this time frame, beneficiaries can review alternatives to their current plans and switch if they’d like. This period is separate from any special enrollment periods, such as the one individuals get during a major life event (marriage or adopting a child, for examples) or when they become eligible for Medicare at age 65, which spans seven months (three months prior to their birth month, their birth month and the three months following). 

This period is also separate from an open enrollment period specifically for Medicare Advantage plans in January through March, when they can switch between Advantage plans or switch to Original Medicare from an Advantage plan. Beneficiaries can switch from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage during the October to December period, however.

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