If you’re new to Medicare or you know someone who’s about to enroll, then you might not know that Medicare has enrollment periods. Aside from the initial signup window – which lasts for seven months starting three months before you turn 65 – there are periods throughout the year during which you can sign up for certain parts, like Medicare Part D or Medicare Advantage (Part C). And while you don’t have to enroll in a Part D or Advantage plan at all, these plans may provide coverage that you need down the line. If you’re interested in these portions of Medicare, then you’ll need to sign up between October 15 and December 7. It’s a period known as open enrollment.
You don’t have to wait until December to sign up. In fact, you should research your options and do it as soon as possible before the signup period ends. There are several advantages to signing up for Medicare early. Here are five good reasons not to wait.
#1: Healthcare may be changing drastically.
Health care may change under a Donald Trump presidency, and it’s not clear yet what this means for programs like Medicare. In 2017, Medicare will go on as usual while the government transitions to a Republican-controlled Congress and presidency, but things may change starting in 2018. Whether Trump repeals the ACA or keeps certain portions of it, you can’t be sure that your plan will stay the same. Trump intends to tackle rising drug costs, but his plan isn’t specific about how he’ll accomplish this. Plus, a repeal of the ACA may affect cost assistance for those who get stuck in the donut hole. Signing up for coverage early – especially prescription drug coverage – will give you peace of mind for the next year.
#2: You won’t have time to shop if you wait.
As with all major life decisions, buying insurance is no easy task. If you wait until the last minute to buy coverage or change your plan, then you won’t have time to compare your options to make sure that you get a good deal. Medicare Advantage plans can vary widely based on carrier, location and your individual needs. Take some time to evaluate your current costs, especially prescriptions, so you can sift through the plans carefully when you’re signing up. It’s easier and less stressful to compare plans when you’re not in a rush.
#3: You may meet with technical difficulties.
The day after Trump was elected president, enrollment on the ACA exchanges surged. More than 100,000 people signed up for health insurance. The higher volume a website has, the slower it runs, especially for something as complex as choosing a health insurance plan. Even high-volume servers crash and lag due to increased load, which means that you may have trouble signing up if you wait until the last minute. This isn’t as big of a concern when you’re enrolling in Medicare Advantage or a prescription drug plan since you don’t need to use a website to do it, but the idea remains the same. Many people wait until the last minute to enroll – in Medicare and in other forms of health insurance – which can cause unnecessary delays. It can also make you feel rushed, which may make you put the wrong information down or apply for the wrong plan. Enrolling early gives you a chance to review your coverage thoroughly.
#4: You’ll need time to talk to your doctor.
Before you sign up for Medicare Part D or a Medicare Advantage plan, it’s important to talk about your health care needs for the coming year with your doctor. This is especially important for people with chronic medical conditions or those who know that their prescription needs will change in 2017. Not all Part D or MA plans are created equal, and you need to know your medical needs so you can pick a plan that actually pays for your care. Ask your doctor for guidance. He may not be able to predict all of your needs for 2017, but he can give you a clearer picture to start with.
#5: You might change your mind.
It’s not over until it’s over. You have from October 15 through December 7 to sign up for a new prescription drug plan, enroll in Medicare Advantage, or change your Part D or MA plan. Use this time wisely to evaluate your current coverage and sign up for a plan that fits within your budget and offers the best protection for your needs. If you wait until the end of the enrollment period, you may not have time to change your mind. Signing up well in advance gives you plenty of opportunity to browse through plans, make changes as necessary and change your mind before deciding on a plan for 2017.