As individuals retire or age into Medicare, their insurance situation can change dramatically. There are a multitude of options open to those with Medicare. The terms are different, the prices are different, the products offered are dramatically different each year.
The purpose of this column is to give those who are eligible for Medicare, or soon to be eligible for Medicare, some understanding of their insurance options and how it could impact their health and finances.
These questions and answers are meant as a guide to help you understand the complex questions you are now thinking about. Each individual's specific situation may create a different solution. You shouldn't necessarily do what your friends, family and neighbors do.
Q: When do I make changes to my insurance? It must be coming up, because my mail is full of insurance advertisements.
A: I love this time of year. My mailbox is always full of stuff; everyone is full of questions. Anticipation runs high about the coming year's insurance.
OK, so maybe everyone doesn't feel that way about The Annual Open Enrollment Period. But I do.
Each year there is an Annual Open Enrollment Period (AEP). This is the period of time when you can make changes to your prescription drug coverage, which may also impact your health insurance coverage. You can add prescription drug coverage, you may change the company you get your prescription drug coverage from, or the way you get your prescription drug coverage. If you aren't currently in a prescription drug plan, this is the period when you can join for the first time. If you are already in a prescription drug plan, you can switch to an alternate plan. Whatever change you make during this year's AEP will take effect the first of the year (Jan. 1, 2013).
This year, the Annual Open Enrollment Period date begins Oct. 15 and lasts until Dec. 7. This allows the insurance companies time to send you your new plan information and insurance card before the first of the year. This is significant because you must make a decision by Dec. 7. If you try to make a decision after Dec. 7, you will not be able to change your insurance. You must research your decision and complete the enrollment prior to Dec. 7.
Each of the companies will announce their insurance products beginning Oct.1. That is why you will begin getting a lot of mailings. The most important one to watch for is from your current company. Review the material they send to you and decide whether the changes still meet your needs. The other mailings you receive you can certainly review to see if they are of interest to you.
If you are interested in switching insurance products, you can research the options, and then you have to decide (enroll) by Dec. 7, so the plan will begin on Jan. 1, 2013.
In summary, this date for the Annual Open Enrollment Period gives us 53 days to make our changes. It then will allow everyone to get their new insurance cards prior to the start date of the insurance. The plans are announced on Oct.1, so you have 14 days to do your research before the enrollment period begins, as well as during the 53 days.
Just don't wait too long to make your enrollment decision. If you make no decision or decide to stay with the plan you have, you don't need to do anything. The plan you already have will roll over into 2013.
Happy insurance season.
Janell Sluga is a geriatric care manager certified and works for Senior Life Matters, a program of Lutheran Senior Housing, and has worked in Chautauqua County with seniors for more than 18 years. She is HIICAP (Health Insurance Information, Counseling & Assistance Program) counselor-trained by Office for the Aging. She does not sell insurance or represent any insurance company. She is an unbiased source of insurance and education to help seniors choose the best option for them.
You may submit questions to be answered in later columns to Janell Sluga at Senior Life Matters, 737 Falconer St., Jamestown, NY 14701, or call 716-720-9797, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please remember that not all questions can be answered in this format, but as many as can be, will be.