Medicare, ACA care and how to navigate during enrollment

This is enrollment season for two huge public health insurance programs: Medicare and the Affordable Care Act health insurance exchanges. For older Americans, the overlapping sign-up periods can lead to confusion and enrollment errors.

Insurers offering Medicare and ACA policies have big money at stake, and consumers are subject to a blizzard of marketing messages. Annual enrollment for Medicare prescription drug (Part D) and Advantage (Part C) plans began Oct. 15 and runs until Dec. 7; shopping for healthcare policies in the marketplace exchanges created under the ACA began Nov. 15 and ends Feb. 15.

Consumer assistance groups report that some Medicare enrollees mistakenly think they must also enroll in the ACA exchanges. And for people with ACA plans who are turning 65, the transition to Medicare can be tricky. Here are some common questions about

enrollment overlap, and answers aimed at helping older Americans keep things straight.

If you’re already on Medicare, it’s important to re-shop coverage annually. But a study released last fall by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that, on average, just 13 percent of enrollees voluntarily switched their drug plans over four recent enrollment periods. The switching rate is nearly identical for those in for Advantage plans, the all-in-one managed-care option offered to Medicare beneficiaries.

That’s unfortunate, since plenty of people are leaving money on the table. The Kaiser study found that 46 percent of plan switchers saved at least 5 percent the following year, mainly on premiums.

Seniors who use traditional fee-for-service Medicare need only check on their drug coverage. Most Medicare Advantage plans wrap in drug coverage, so enrollees can usually make a single shopping trip there, too.
Medicare cost inflation has been moderate for several years, and will continue to be in 2015. The average Part D premium will drop from $39.88 in 2014 to $38.95 next year, according to Avalere Health, a research and consulting firm.

But a close look at the 10 most popular plans shows why it is important to evaluate coverage annually. Premium changes will vary significantly. For example, average premiums for Aetna’s Medicare Rx Saver plan will fall 31 percent, but the average rate premium for while WellCare’s Classic plan will jump 52 percent on average.

Learn more about the annual enrollment season, and check the RetirementRevised guides to shopping Medicare Part D prescription drug plans and Medicare Advantage plans.

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