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Tom Schrette and Alan Cash

Tom Schrette and Alan Cash

Dear Tom and Alan: Hey guys, last October I started receiving information on Medicare plans.

Most were saying that the annual election period had begun. Or, “It’s open enrollment time.”

I have Medicare Parts A and B with a Kaiser Senior Advantage Medicare Supplement policy.

Well, I didn’t change plans, mostly because I didn’t understand what they were selling. I suppose I should have called you guys back then for some guidance.

Anyway, now I am receiving information, again, about the Medicare Open Enrollment period.

I thought that happened at the end of last year. Should I be looking at another plan? I am again confused.

Confused!

Tom: Very understandable. First let me correct the terms: your Kaiser Senior Advantage Plan replaces Medicare Parts A & B; a Medicare Supplement plan is in addition to Medicare A & B. We are instructed to never call an Advantage plan a “supplement.”

Now, for the marketing avalanche you’ve been receiving: the true names of the Medicare election periods are the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) running from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 each year (so far), and the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period from Jan. 1 to March 31.

Al: Since you are on a Medicare Advantage Plan through Kaiser, they’re going to want your attention during both enrollment periods. During the AEP, Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, you could change from your current Advantage plan to any other Advantage plan available in your area.

During the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period, Jan. 1 to March 31, you can switch to any other Advantage plan available in your area. Or … you can drop your Advantage plan and go back to Original Medicare.

Tom: Going back to Original Medicare means you will be covered for about 80 percent of your medical needs. It also means you can apply for a drug plan (Medicare Part D), because you lose the drug coverage you had with Kaiser.

The prescription drug plans have been with us since about 2006. The AEP was mainly used to change drug plans. Part D comes with a penalty for those who don’t sign up in a timely way.

The problem for people who give up their Advantage plan is that they also lose the built-in drug plan. If our reader dumps his Kaiser plan, he would definitely want to enroll in a drug plan prior to March 31.

Al: A further problem for those who drop their Advantage plan is that neither of the open enrollment periods apply toward a Medicare Supplement plan.

Medicare Supplement plans have a series of medical questions on the application. Unless you are in a special situation that guarantees acceptance, you are subject to whatever decision is made by the underwriter.

The key point in all of this is do not give up what you’ve got until you have been approved.

Tom: I think it’s fair to say that if your Advantage Plan is working for you, ignore the advertising and stick with what you have.

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Submit questions to schrette@gmail.com or alancash@gmail.com.

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