Medicare Open Enrollment – New Features make Shopping for 2018 Coverage Easier!

By Seema Verma, Administrator, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)

Each October, as the days grow shorter, time seems to speed up. Maybe it’s because we start planning for the looming holidays or begin bracing for the cold winter, but before we know it we’re saying goodbye to one year and ringing in a new one. That’s why it’s important to set aside some time between now and early December to think about your 2018 healthcare needs by shopping for high-quality Medicare health and drug plans during Open Enrollment.

Medicare Open Enrollment kicked off on October 15 and will run through December 7. I’m pleased to share that you will have better access to high-quality health coverage choices offering more options and lower premiums in 2018. This means you should be able to find plans that cost less but still give you quality care and better customer service. In fact, the number of Medicare Advantage plans available to individuals across the country is increasing from about 2,700 to more than 3,100 – and more than 85 percent of people with Medicare will have access to 10 or more Medicare Advantage plans. We are estimating that the average Medicare Advantage monthly premium will decrease by $1.91 in 2018, from an average of $31.91 in 2017 to $30. The Medicare prescription drug plan average basic premium is projected to decline for the first time since 2012 (a decrease of approximately $1.20 below the 2017 average basic premium of $34.70).

The choices available demonstrate the benefits of supply and demand market forces in a strong healthcare market. Consumers are demanding more from their insurance plans and in turn Medicare Advantage and Part D plans, like any business, are responding with better service at a lower cost leading to a truly patient-centered approach to healthcare.

Medicare is making some exciting changes of our own to make it easier for you to make an informed choice between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage. You may have noticed a few of these changes in your Medicare & You handbook, but it doesn’t stop there. We’re improving our digital features on Medicare.gov, where you can sign-up to get timely notices about Open Enrollment and other important Medicare updates directly to your inbox. While on Medicare.gov be sure to check out the new help wizard that will point you to resources that will help you make informed healthcare decisions. These updates mirror the private sector and reflect a few ways we’re modernizing the customer service experience.

If you’ve been thinking about starting your new year with a Medicare Advantage or Prescription Drug Plan, or you’re interested in making some changes to your current plan, now is the time to shop for your coverage. Medicare health and drug plans change each year, and so can your health needs. That’s why it’s always a good idea to consider what needs you may have for 2018 and take a look at the available plans in your area.

Your coverage will begin on January 1, 2018. If you miss the deadline, you will likely have to wait a full year before you are able to make changes to your plan. During Open Enrollment, you can decide to stay in Original Medicare or join a Medicare Advantage Plan. If you find your current coverage still meets your healthcare needs, then you’re done.

Open Enrollment is also a good opportunity to make sure you’re doing everything you can to protect your identity and your health by guarding your Medicare card like you would a credit card. Identity theft resulting from stolen Medicare numbers is becoming more and more common. Medicare is here to help in the fight by removing Social Security Numbers from Medicare cards and replacing them with a new, unique number for each person with Medicare. Medicare will mail new Medicare cards with the new numbers between April 2018 and April 2019.

Don’t let the opportunity to have better quality healthcare at a lower price pass you by. Get a jump start on your new year’s health resolution today. You can visit Medicare.gov (http://www.medicare.gov), call 1-800-MEDICARE, or contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) to learn more.

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