It's almost time, it's significant, and it happens only once a year: the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) for Medicare—and your chance to take control.
What is involved in the AEP?
The seven-week period for enrollment in Medicare Advantage Plans, known as the AEP, is designed to give all Medicare beneficiaries the freedom to enroll in new programs or make changes to their existing coverage. You can use this period to switch from Original Medicare to an Advantage Plan, or vice versa. You can also change your current Advantage Plan and join or leave a Part D drug plan.
When is the AEP?
AEP is a seven-week window that occurs one time per year, from October 15 through December 7 with new coverage beginning January 1. During this short time, Medicare beneficiaries enjoy the broadest available options for selecting their coverage for the following year.
This is the only time of the year that an individual enrolled in Part A and Part B, with or without a Supplement (Medigap) Plan, may elect to enroll in an Advantage Plan. This may be important to frequent travelers who depend on their Medicare coverage while traveling the world.
Remember, Medicare Supplement and Medicare Advantage Plans are the parts of Medicare that cover worldwide emergency and urgent-care services. So you can use your Medicare while you're out of the country (through Medicare Supplement and Medicare Advantage Plans), but only in three narrow, specific ways.
What Should I Do During AEP?
AEP is the time when all Medicare Advantage Plan beneficiaries should review the coverage options for the following year. Pay attention to the following areas:
- Premiums and deductibles, maximum out-of-pocket limit, cost of all prescriptions taken, charges for hospital stays (both inpatient and observation, copay), or coinsurance for outpatient services
- Investigate the availability and quality of the ancillary products included in the plan, such as dental, vision, hearing, over-the-counter supplies, and gym memberships.
This is the only time of the year that a person enrolled in a Medicare Supplement Plan can select better worldwide travel coverage by switching to a Medicare Advantage Plan.
For Expats and Travelers?
During AEP it is important to review your international coverage. If you plan to travel or work remotely overseas, check whether the plan offers worldwide emergency/urgent care travel coverage. In the event it does, check the copay per event and whether there is a coinsurance or limit on coverage amounts. If it does not have foreign travel coverage, select a different plan.
You can find worldwide travel coverage in the explanation of benefits (EOB). Look for a plan that offers worldwide emergency and urgent-care services for a specified copayment per event, usually between $0 and $120. It should have no coinsurance added, and it should cover you for the first six or twelve months of every overseas trip.
When Should I Enlist Help?
If you find it too daunting to research the many plans available and make the proper comparisons on your own, enlist the assistance of an independent Medicare broker or agent. Most agents and brokers represent multiple plans and are paid by the carriers they service, so there is no charge for a consultation. If you speak with an agent who works directly for one insurance provider, understand that the agent will likely inform you only about the plans they represent.
Now Is the Time!
The AEP is the one time of the year when you have almost complete freedom to amend your Medicare coverage. Making changes during this period is relatively simple while making changes outside of it can be difficult or impossible. Given the current healthcare environment, it's never been more important to make sure your healthcare is set up to best suit your needs, so start your research now and make sure you have the best coverage options possible in 2023.
Editor's Note: Ron's book, Medicare Made Easy, is packed with invaluable advice for anyone considering retiring overseas, either full- or part-time, or even just planning some overseas travel and intending to rely on Medicare for healthcare coverage. And now's a great time to pick up a copy.
Not only is the Annual Enrollment Period approaching, but right now Ron's book is available with a limited-time special offer. Get all the details here.