It may seem early, but Medicare’s Annual Election Period (AEP) will be here before you know it. With a limited time to make changes to your current Medicare coverage, you want to be prepared. Medicare’s Annual Election Period starts on October 15 and ends December 7.

Getting Ready for AEP

Let’s countdown the top five things you can do to get ready.

1. Review your current coverage. It is important to take time to review the medical bills you have incurred over the past year. Go over your expenses, including copayments, coinsurance, premiums, and deductibles. Ask yourself some of these questions:

  • Did your costs fit comfortably within your budget or did medical expenses cause you financial stress?
  • Have you experienced any unexpected changes to your health that require different prescription drugs or your more doctor visits?
  • Did you have a health crisis or event that left you with overwhelming out-of-pocket costs?
  • Has your living arrangement changed? Did you move in or out of skilled nursing care?
  • Have you been diagnosed with a chronic illness or disease that may change your coverage needs?

Evaluate your current coverage and determine how well it has met your needs over the past year. This will help you make an informed decision.

2. Read your plan’s Annual Notice of Change. Every September, Medicare plans are required to send out an Annual Notice of Change (ANOC). The ANOC will include any changes to coverage, costs, or service area that will take effect on January 1. Read the ANOC thoroughly to decide if the same plan will continue to meet your needs in the coming year. If the plan is no longer offered in your area, or if changes to costs and benefits simply do not fit your current circumstances, you will have the opportunity to make a change during AEP.

3. Compare plans. When AEP starts on October 15, you have the opportunity to make changes to your Medicare coverage, but what options do you have?

  • Switch from one Medicare Advantage plan, with or without prescription drug coverage, to another Medicare Advantage plan, with or without prescription drug coverage.
  • Drop Original Medicare and enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan.
  • Drop your Medicare Advantage plan and revert to Original Medicare. (You have the option to then enroll in a stand-along Prescription Drug Plan.)
  • Switch from one stand-alone Prescription Drug Plan to another stand-alone Prescription Drug plan.

If you have decided to change Medicare Advantage plans, free online comparison tools can be invaluable as you compare costs and benefits. Compare plans side-by- side to find the one that will be right for you. Medicare Advantage plans are required to provide the same Part A and Part B benefits as Original Medicare, but many MA plans offer a variety of additional benefits at little to no extra cost. Some will offer vision and dental care, hearing exams, fitness club memberships, and prescription drug coverage. Costs can vary among plans in your area.

If you are considering a switch from a Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage (MA-PD) to another MA-PD, or switching from one Prescription Drug Plan (PDP) to another PDP, consider the plan formularies carefully. A formulary is a plan’s list of covered drugs and can vary between plans. If you already depend on specific medication to maintain or improve your health, check the formulary of the plan you are considering to make sure your medication will be covered. Costs for prescriptions can vary from plan to plan, and are usually based on tiers of pricing based on generic, brand-name or mail order medications.

4. Ask questions. Don’t hesitate to ask all your questions. Once you have made a change to your Medicare insurance during AEP, you will likely have to stick with that plan for the following year. Speak to a licensed sales agent and get the answers to any questions you may have. They can alleviate any concerns you have and guide you toward the insurance solution that will best meet your specific needs and preferences.

5. Enroll. It’s easy to lose track of time during AEP. You do all the research and you make your decision, but December 7 can creep up on you. December 7 is the last day for you to make changes to your coverage. Changes made by December 7 will go into effect on January 1. Many plans will allow for online or telephonic enrollment. A licensed sales agent can help you navigate the enrollment process.