Personal Finance

Time is running out to lock in your Medicare coverage

Key Points
  • Medicare's fall enrollment period ends Dec. 7.
  • With Part B premiums jumping 23 percent for many Medicare recipients, looking for savings is worth your time.

Medicare recipients who haven't yet re-evaluated their coverage have about two weeks left to make changes.

The program's open enrollment period, which started Oct. 15, ends on Dec. 7. This seven-week window is generally the only time you can make changes to your Advantage Plan (Medicare Part C) or prescription drug coverage (Part D). And with premiums for Part B (outpatient care) jumping by 23 percent for many Medicare beneficiaries, trying to contain costs in other areas is crucial.

Although the 2018 standard monthly premium for Part B will remain unchanged at $134, about 70 percent of Medicare Part B enrollees currently pay a lower monthly premium due to a "hold harmless" legal provision. Their monthly cost will rise by as much as $25 to $134 from the 2017 average of $109, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

What Sen. Bernie Sanders' bill could mean for you

The hold-harmless provision prevents Medicare Part B premiums from rising more than a person's Social Security cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA. After several years of low or no annual COLAs, Social Security recipients will get a 2 percent COLA increase next year. That increase will go toward the full Part B premium.

For help with finding and comparing Advantage Plans or prescription drug plans, you can visit the Medicare Plan finder at the Medicare website. Or, call the Medicare help line at 800-633-4227.

Here are a few considerations to help you make a decision about your Medicare coverage before Dec. 7.

Look beyond the monthly cost

Whether you're considering an Advantage Plan for the first time or comparison-shopping, make sure you don't only compare the premium costs. Low premiums can come with less coverage, or higher deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance. Consider your individual situation and exactly what coverage matters to you.

Check your prescriptions

Whether you're getting prescription coverage through an Advantage Plan or through standalone drug coverage, make sure you check the price of your prescriptions because they can vary greatly among plans. Also make sure the pharmacies where you can get your medicine are convenient.

Confirm your doctor is in-network

If you choose an Advantage Plan without making sure your doctor or other favorite provider is in-network, you're generally out of luck for another year. If you choose an HMO, your plan generally will not cover the cost of an out-of-network doctor. PPOs typically allow you to go to non-participating providers for a higher cost.

When to do nothing

If you're satisfied with your coverage, there's no need to do anything — your coverage will continue uninterrupted. However, be aware that insurers often make coverage changes to their offerings, so it's still worthwhile making sure you will be happy with your plan for 2018.

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