If you're a Medicare recipient, this is the time of year to do some comparison shopping.
Medicare's annual open enrollment period starts Thursday, Oct. 15. During this period, Medicare beneficiaries can make changes to various aspects of their coverage. Those who have Part D prescription drug coverage can shop around for a different plan that may offer better coverage or lower prices. This is especially important if you are taking more or different prescription drugs than you were last year at this time.
Medicare makes it relatively easy to compare drug plans with its Medicare Plan Finder tool (nwsdy.li/planfinder). You can also call Medicare at 800-633-4227 and get plan comparisons from a Medicare representative, who can also enroll you over the phone. Pharmacy benefit management firm Express Scripts offers a road map to Medicare Part D at nwsdy.li/partdguide.
If you're happy with the drug plan you have, you don't have to do anything. You will be re-enrolled automatically if you don't choose a new plan.
Medicare says the average Part D monthly premium in 2016 is expected to be $32.50, same as this year. The initial deductible you must pay before coverage begins will be $360 in 2016, up from $320 this year. Also, the out-of-pocket threshold -- meaning the most money you will have to pay for drugs under any circumstances -- will be $4,850 in 2016, up from $4,700.
But the open enrollment period is not just for Part D. You can also choose a Medicare Advantage plan (also known as Medicare Part C). Medicare Advantage plans are run by private companies that contract with Medicare to cover your benefits for Medicare Part A (hospital) and Part B (doctors' visits). Many have prescription drug coverage that replaces Part D. Advantage plans have monthly premiums on top of the regular monthly Part B premium, which you will still have to pay. But Advantage plans offer extra coverage for some services that traditional Medicare doesn't cover. Those who already have a Medicare Advantage plan can change to a different plan or go back to traditional Medicare during this period. You can compare Advantage plans at medicare.gov.
You can get some hands-on help Tuesday at the Wyandanch Public Library. The free seminar, "The A, B, C and D's of Medicare," begins at 7 p.m. For more information, call 631-643-4848.
And Elwood Public Library in East Northport is holding a free "Medicare Made Easy" workshop on Oct. 26 at 1 p.m. Call 631-499-3722 to register.
The Medicare open enrollment period ends Dec. 7.