With much of the attention focused on the Affordable Care Act and health exchanges this past week, it’s easy to forget that the annual Medicare open enrollment period kicks off on Oct. 15. Beginning Tuesday, older adults can compare options among available plans and make changes based on any shifting health, lifestyle, or personal needs until Dec. 7.
Beneficiaries can use this Medicare Annual Election Period to explore various Medicare plans, compare costs and options, and check whether providers or institutions accept certain plans. For example, those taking new medications, who relocate, are diagnosed with a chronic medical condition, or experience an accident or injury which changes their health status may want to add or drop certain benefits, or find a plan with lower co-pays. A move to a different state may require finding new physicians or joining a plan with different participating facilities in their new coverage area. Even if a person’s status remains the same, plans can change — benefits might be added or dropped, or prescription medications might go on or off formulary.
Health plans for 2014 are available at the Medicare.gov website, but visitors should be aware that information has not been updated since the government shutdown on Oct. 1. While beneficiaries can use the online tools to sign up or explore plans — including Medigap policies — any changes since the shutdown are not reflected in the results.
However, a CMS spokesperson said they are “are moving forward with online enrollment as planned.”
AARP spokesperson Allyson Funk said her organization is doing everything it can to ensure that all Social Security and Medicare recipients will continue to receive their earned benefits and access critical services in a timely manner during the shutdown. Older Americans and advocacy groups also fear the impact of the looming debt ceiling on benefits.
In an open letter to CMS, AARP Vice President Nancy LeaMond said, “Millions of older Americans rely on Medicare to meet their critical health care needs. A loss or even diminishment of these benefits would be truly devastating and the well-being of millions of Americans would be put in significant jeopardy. AARP urges you to reach a quick resolution to the debt ceiling crisis without putting at risk the Social Security and Medicare benefits that older Americans have earned and need.”
Medicare’s toll-free helpline is available, but callers should be aware of “extended” wait times, according to the recorded message. It’s not yet clear whether change forms will be processed during the federal shutdown or if the Annual Election Period will be extended. CMS plans to announce further details on Tuesday.