If you are already in Medicare, you probably know that the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) started on October 15. It ends on December 7, the day after the Feast of St. Nicholas. This is the time when people in Medicare have an opportunity to make changes in their Medicare Advantage (Part C) and Medicare Prescription Drug plans (Part D) for the coming year. If you are just entering Medicare or will in the near future, you are not limited by the AEP timeframe. Also, Medicare Supplement (aka Medi-gap) plans do not have to be changed during the AEP.
The AEP is a good time to mention several things about Medicare.
First, this summer Medicare started sending out new Medicare cards with a new Medicare number. The days when your Medicare number was generally the same as your Social Security number are over. The new numbers are a series of unique letters and numbers. If you have not gotten a new card yet, check with Medicare (1-800-MEDICARE) to find out why. If you joined Medicare this year, you probably got a card with a new number. Although your Medicare number is no longer connected to your Social Security number, it is extremely important that you do not give it to anyone who does not have a need-to-know. And I must add that calls or emails which supposedly come from the US government, do not, so ignore them.
If you have a Medicare Advantage (Part C) or standalone prescription drug (Part D) plan, the AEP is the time to review your current plan or plans. By now you have gotten an Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) for your current Part C or D coverage. I know an ANOC is not the most exciting thing to read, but it covers the details of your plan, including changes for 2019, and can guide you in deciding whether to change what you have or not. If you have questions, don’t be shy – call the plan or your agent to get answers.
In case it is not clear, you do not have to do anything, if you are happy with your current coverage, whether Original Medicare, Medicare Advantage plan, standalone prescription drug plan and/or Medicare Supplement plan. Everything rolls over to the new year as long as the plan continues.
Something else to know is that the US Government has reinstated the Open Enrollment Period (OEP). This is not the same as the AEP. It starts January 1 and runs to March 31. This is a time when you can make some changes, specifically, switching from one Medicare Advantage plan (with or without a prescription drug plan) to another (with or without a prescription drug plan) and moving from a Medicare Advantage back to Original Medicare (Parts A & B) and adding a standalone prescription drug plan (Part D). Please note that you cannot switch from one standalone prescription drug plan to another, switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan or join a prescription drug plan. During the OEP you are limited to only one change. (During AEP you can make as many changes as you wish up until December 7.)
If your income is low you may be eligible for one or more forms of assistance in New Jersey. These include assistance (Extra Help) with the premium for Medicare Part B and/or with Medicare Part D. The Low Income Subsidy (LIS) helps residents of New Jersey with both Part B and Part D costs. PAAD and Senior Gold assist qualified people in New Jersey with the costs associated with prescription drug plans both standalone and as part of a Medicare Advantage plan. Eligibility, program details and how to apply are available online in the Department of Human Services area on the State of New Jersey site. The easiest way to find information is to Google terms such as low Income Subsidy or PAAD.
Finally, do not hesitate to ask for help. Medicare can be confusing, but there are a variety of ways to get assistance in dealing with the confusion. You can read your copy of Medicare & You. You can go to Medicare.gov (not Medicare.com) to look up plans and search for answers. You can contact the local State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) office. Google NJ SHIP to get to the contact information on the NJ state site. You can use a licensed agent who can help you in finding a plan or in answering your questions. Or you can call the toll-free number for a particular insurance company you are interested in. There are many resources to help you. Do not hesitate to use them.
Senior Moments is a regular column by Senior Ministries of the Diocese of Newark.
Scott Bennett is the Chair of Senior Ministries and a licensed insurance agent.