MEDICARE NEWS: The annual “Open Enrollment” period has begun, and a new one starts in January; 2019 cost-sharing amounts announced, including a slight increase in Part B premiums.

MEDICARE NEWS:  The annual “Open Enrollment” period has begun, and a new one starts in January; 2019 cost-sharing amounts announced, including a slight increase in Part B premiums.

ANNUAL “OPEN ENROLLMENT PERIOD:  October 15th saw the beginning of what is popularly known as Medicare’s annual “Open Enrollment” period.  This is the time each year when all Medicare beneficiaries can enroll with, switch, or drop Medicare Advantage plans and stand-alone Prescription Drug plans (most Medicare Advantage plans include drug coverage).  The period runs from October 15 to December 7.  Any changes take effect January 1st.

[NOTE: this period involves choices about how to use Medicare coverage; not enrollments in Medicare per se]

Enrollment with any plan is voluntary, but plans generally must accept beneficiaries regardless of health status.  Choosing among plans can be difficult, and many beneficiaries tend to keep their existing plan enrollments even though changing may be beneficial financially and otherwise. The Medicare system has an online service on its website (www.medicare.gov) that  provides some help with choices, and many private companies offer such help.

The Aging & Disability Resource Center (“ADRC”) of New Mexico’s Aging & Long Term Services Department also provides such help, at no charge, at “Enrollment Days” in communities throughout the state.  A list of places, dates and times of the Enrollment Days is available online at www.nmaging.state.nm.us (click on “Special Events), and from the ADRC (toll-free 1-800-432-2080) (which can also discuss other counseling arrangements).

This 10/15-12/7 period is officially called the Annual Coordinated Election Period, or “ACEP,” This explains why Congress has created the new “Open Enrollment” period mentioned next.

THE NEW OPEN ENROLLMENT PERIOD:  An additional annual “open enrollment” period will take place, for the first time, in 2019.  It will run from January 1 thru March 31, and will enable beneficiaries to make some of the same choices that can be made during the 10/15-12/7 period.  The major differences are that only beneficiaries already enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans can use it, and any changes take effect the month following the month in which a change is made.  This new “open enrollment” period was adopted in part to help beneficiaries who had second thoughts or surprises regarding their existing enrollments.

[NOTE: this new three-month period runs at the same time as Medicare’s “General Enrollment Period” (GEP), but is entirely different.  The GEP is a time when individuals who failed to enroll in Medicare when first eligible, or dropped it, can re-enroll.]  

MEDICARE PREMIUM AND COST-SHARING CHARGES FOR 2019:  On October 12, the Medicare agency (CMS) announced the Medicare premium, deductibles, and coinsurance amounts will be in 2019 (the figures have usually been reported in November).  The new figures show only slight increases from their 2018 counterparts.

Most notably, the standard Part B monthly premium will increase by only $1.50, to $135.50 (higher income beneficiaries pay higher amounts).  The Part B annual deductible will increase by $2, to $185.

The Part A hospital deductible will increase $24, to $1,364; hospital daily coinsurance charges for days 60-90 will increase $6, to $341; and hospital daily “lifetime reserve day” charges will increase $12, to $682.  Skilled Nursing Facility coinsurance charges, for each day of covered care after the 20th, will increase $3, to $170.  [NOTE:  Medicare Advantage plans can use different Part A and B cost-sharing charges]

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