(StatePoint) It’s that time of year again: The Medicare Annual Election Period (AEP) began Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 7. Medicare is a critical source of healthcare for millions of Americans who are age 65 and older and for younger people with certain qualifying disabilities. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) sets this time for people eligible for Medicare to select or make changes to their plans for the following year.
For people with Medicare, there is nothing more important than maintaining physical and financial independence. The right health care plan can help. It can ensure you have access to fitness programs, preventive services, engaged doctors, maintenance medications and transportation, all at an affordable price. That’s why it’s so crucial for Medicare consumers to consider their health and budget needs as they evaluate their health care options for 2018.
“Choosing a plan isn’t as simple as just keeping the one you had last year or looking only at the monthly premium costs,” says Brian Evanko, who leads Cigna’s government programs, which include Cigna-HealthSpring. “The goal should be to choose a plan that best meets your individual needs. It’s important to find the right balance for you between benefits and affordability.”
To help you choose a plan and get the most from it, consider these five tips:
1. Make a list of your priorities and health care needs. Focusing on prevention? Keeping out-of-pocket costs low? Staying active? Needing dental, vision or hearing coverage? Seeking comprehensive prescription drug coverage? Take time to evaluate plan options according to your health and financial goals.
2. Know your network. Many plans offer choices with a network of doctors. Navigating the health care system can be complex, time-consuming and costly. Without the right support, you can feel very alone. That’s why it’s critical to surround yourself with a team of providers who are committed to getting to know your needs and to meeting them through open communication and care coordination. The primary care physician serves as your quarterback, directing your care through a network of like-minded specialists.
3. Take advantage of preventive care benefits. Medicare plans offer many preventive health benefits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 100,000 lives could be saved each year if everyone received recommended preventive care, which often starts with seeing a doctor for an annual check-up. So go to your doctor, know the health screenings you need for your age and get them to take control of your health. For more information about preventive care, visit www.cigna.com/takecontrol.
4. Stay active with fitness benefits. Exercise is essential to healthy aging. Original Medicare doesn’t cover gym memberships or fitness programs, but some Medicare Advantage plans offer such benefits as part of their coverage at no extra cost.
5. Use no-cost resources to help pick the right plan. CMS’ Plan Finder helps you compare costs, covered medications and other items. Many insurance plans offer seminars at no cost and with no obligation to sign up. You can also check health plans’ websites or call customer service for more information. Local and state agencies on aging also connect older adults and caregivers with community resources.
As you weigh the options, Evanko offers this advice: “It’s worth it to take the time to set your priorities and see how plan benefits stack up. Only then can you choose a plan that really helps you get the most from it and reach your goals.”