: Medicare open enrollment begins today: Here’s what to know

Medicare’s open enrollment period is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 — and it’s an important deadline for beneficiaries to remember. 

Open enrollment is the time in which current Medicare beneficiaries can make any changes to their coverage, such as adding or dropping a plan. It’s a time when people can also switch to Medicare Advantage, which is Medicare-approved health insurance provided by a private company, or choose between Medicare Advantage and a supplement plan. When beneficiaries make no changes, their current elections continue into the following year. 

Selecting the proper healthcare insurance is crucial, made even more apparent by the coronavirus crisis. Healthcare expenses tend to rise every year, especially for older Americans, who may be at risk of multiple chronic illnesses or ailments. 

There are also myriad coverage options for people 65 and older under Medicare — according to Ari Parker, head Medicare adviser and co-founder of Chapter, a company that specializes in maximizing Medicare coverage, there are more than 24,000 plan options across the U.S. And healthcare is changing, too. “What we have seen, there’s been a greater focus on telemedicine,” he said. He and his team work with individuals to find the proper health insurance plan, which may include finding doctors in-network who accept $0 copays for telehealth. 

See: Your guide to Medicare open enrollment: How to shop, switch and compare plans

Parker spoke with MarketWatch during a Barron’s Live event about Medicare’s open enrollment period on Oct. 13. 

Not everyone has to make a change to their Medicare coverage, but now would be the right time for beneficiaries to assess what fees they pay, if they’re happy with their current doctors, if there are other healthcare providers they’d like to visit who are not in-network and what additional coverage they may need.

Beneficiaries can also compare their current plan to similar options, and can ask themselves questions such as “what benefits do these plans include?,” “does this insurance require I get a referral?” and “is my favorite doctor in-network if I decide to switch?” released a guide, called “Medicare & You,” to help Americans sift through coverage options and available plans across the country in 2022. The site also has a preview for drug plans under Part D and Medicare Advantage. 

This enrollment period is different from the requirement for those who turned 65 to sign up for Medicare. Individuals celebrating their 65th birthday have three months before their birth month, their actual birth month and three months after their birth month to enroll in Medicare. The penalty for failing to enroll in Medicare, without a qualifying excuse, can be steep.

Also see: Avoid the 10%-per-year penalty for not enrolling in Medicare — know these rules

Most people qualify for premium-free Part A, which is hospital insurance, but those who are not eligible for the service premium-free may face a penalty where monthly premiums go up 10%. The higher premium must be paid for twice the number of years that person didn’t sign up (so someone who enrolled two years later would be required to pay the higher premium for four years). 

The penalty for enrolling in Part B late, which is medical insurance, is 10% for each 12-month period the person could have had Part B but was not enrolled. The penalty lasts for as long as someone has Part B. Part D, which is drug coverage, has a penalty equal to 1% of the national base beneficiary premium (in 2021, that was $33.06) multiplied by the number of full months the person was not covered for it. 

There is a separate enrollment period, between Jan. 1 and March 31, for Medicare Advantage, but it is only available for people who are already covered under this type of policy, Parker said.

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