“I love problem solving,” says Judy Leach.

Judy LeachThis time of year, Judy has plenty of opportunity to do just that. An Oasis State Health Insurance Assistance Program certified counselor, she is ready to help consumers understand the ins and outs of Medicare and to find the coverage that best suits their needs.

Medicare Open Enrollment for 2017 starts October 15 and ends December 7. It may be the only time that changes to coverage can be made.

Judy and other insurance counselors provide just the kind of free, friendly guidance that many older adults want as they make decisions.

“The calls we receive are about a huge range of issues,” she says. “My best moments are when I figure out a solution to a problem that has been stressing someone out for some time. Often it’s just a matter of explaining what their options are in a way that they can understand.”

During this annual enrollment period you can:

  • Switch from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage, or vice versa
  • Switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another, or from one Medicare Part D (prescription drug) plan to another
  • Enroll in a Medicare Part D plan if you did not do so when you were first eligible (a late enrollment penalty may apply)

Do you need to make a change?

  • If you are already enrolled in a Medicare Part D prescription plan or a Medicare Advantage plan and you don’t want to make changes to your coverage for 2017, you don’t need to do anything during open enrollment.
  • If your plan is being discontinued and isn’t eligible for renewal, you should have received a non-renewal notice from your carrier prior to open enrollment. If you don’t, it means you can keep your plan without doing anything during open enrollment.

Changes to be aware of for 2017 include:

  • Medicare recipients reaching the donut hole (a coverage gap) will benefit from better prescription drug discounts. Gap prescription drug coverage starts when someone meets the initial coverage limit ($3,700 in 2017) and ends when they have spent $4,950. While in the donut hole, enrollees pay 40% of brand name drugs and 51% for generic. The Medicare Part B deductible is $400.
  • Medicare Part B premiums may increase for those who didn’t see an increase in 2016. The actual 2017 Social Security COLA (cost of living) will be known mid-November. If the COLA were to be zero again, most people paying $104.90 and people new to Medicare paying $121.80 this year will be held harmless and pay those amounts again in 2017. 
  • Medicare Advantage plans continue to see changes. Most people will continue to have dozens of Medicare Advantage and Part D plans available to them, but providers can change the coverage options from year-to-year, so it’s important to carefully review the information from your plan provider.

There are many ways to get individual help as you make important decisions regarding Medicare:

  • For a free and confidential one-on-one appointment with an Oasis State Health Insurance Assistance Program certified counselor, call 314-362-7587 (Missouri) or 800-392-0936 (Illinois). For assistance anywhere else nationwide, visit https://www.shiptacenter.org/.  
  • Visit MyMedicareMatters/Oasis a convenient and free online service made possible in partnership with the National Council on Aging (NCOA).