Attention Seniors…Beware of Sharks!

A feeding frenzy is about to begin.  No, I am not talking about real sharks.  I am referring to the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period (AEP).  The Annual Enrollment Period is the time of year, set aside by Medicare, during which Medicare beneficiaries can enroll in or change their Medicare Advantage or Prescription drug plans.  The AEP runs from October 15 to December 7, although insurance companies and agents can begin marketing to you beginning October 1st.

The problem arises due to the fact that this is the only time of the year that insurance companies and agents can market their Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug plans to you – unless you are new to Medicare.  In my opinion, this leads to very aggressive marketing behavior.  Now don’t get me wrong, just like every shark in the ocean is not out to bite you, not every agent and insurance company is out to take advantage of you, but you do need to be aware.

So what steps can you take to protect yourself?

Know what you have.  It is extremely important to know what type of plan you have.  Do you have Traditional Medicare Parts A&B paired with a Medicare Supplement policy, or do you have Part C of Medicare which is a Medicare Advantage plan?  If you have a Medicare Supplement policy, what plan do you have (A – N)?  If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, do you have a HMO, PPO or PFFS plan?  Do you have a stand-alone Part D prescription drug plan or is it part of your Medicare Advantage plan?  These are all important questions to ask yourself.

Know what you should do.  The first thing you should know is that you don’t have to do anything, unless your plan is terminated for some reason.  If that is not the case, and you are completely happy with your plan, you can just leave everything “as is.”  With that said, it is important to review any benefit, premium or formulary changes to your plan.  If you have a Medicare Advantage or Prescription Drug plan, your plan will send you an “Annual Notice of Change” packet explaining any changes to your plan for 2013.  Don’t assume that because your medication was covered this year that it will automatically be covered next year.  Finally, don’t let any agent or insurance company lead you to believe that you have to make any changes.

Know what you can/can’t do.  There are a lot of rules surrounding Medicare, so be careful when you do make any changes.  Some changes could get you disenrolled from a plan you didn’t intend to get disenrolled from.  Don’t assume all agents know these rules.

Know what agents can/can’t do.  It is important to know that agents cannot cold call you in any way, meaning that if you didn’t invite them, they can’t contact you – except by mail.  Be careful when requesting free information whether by mail or on the internet.  Many times when you request this free information, you have just given an agent permission to contact you.  If you have made this mistake in the past, you know how many phone calls you can get.  The Ohio Department of Insurance put out an excellent flyer called, “Medicare & You: Understanding & Protecting Yourself from Predatory Sales practices.”  You can view this form on their website.

Work with a trusted advisor.  When you do have questions or need to make changes to your plan, make sure you work with a trusted advisor.  An advisor is someone who listens to you and helps you find a plan that is right for you based on all the options available.  A salesperson is someone who will tell you what you want to hear so they can sell you a product.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference, so do your homework on this one.  How long have they been in the business?  Are they a jack of all trades or do they focus on senior insurance?  Do they have a local office?  Do they have a website to help you research your options?  Do they work with someone you know who can vouch for them?  Are they available during working hours to help you, or do you just get their voicemail?

If you will do your homework and become knowledgeable in these five areas, you will have come a long way in protecting yourself and making sure you don’t get bitten when the feeding frenzy begins October 1st.

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