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Medicare moves you should consider making now

Medicare open enrollment currently runs through Dec. 7.

Now is the time to re-evaluate your existing coverage, particularly if your financial circumstances have changed or if you have been prescribed new medications in the past year.

By getting organized and thinking through your decisions now, you stand to save the most money, experts say.

It's Medicare open enrollment time, which means you have time to make changes to your coverage for 2019.

But don't delay. If you start looking into what is available now, you position yourself to make the best choices.

"It's that time of year to be evaluating your plan to make sure it fits your needs as best as possible," said Katy Votava, president of Goodcare.com, an independent consulting firm that specializes in health care.

Some key pieces of information have already been released. Medicare Part B premiums will be $135.50 in 2019, up from $134 in 2018.

At the same time, the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment will be 2.8 percent, which means many individuals will see a bigger benefits check after those premiums are deducted.

But there are additional things to consider as you evaluate your coverage during the open enrollment window, which lasts through Dec. 7.

Note whether your income has changed

If your income is greater than $85,000 as an individual or $170,000 if you are married and filing taxes jointly, you will pay more for Medicare Part B premiums or Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage.

But your circumstances could change if you retire, are not working as much, or have had a divorce or death in the family, Votava said.

"It's your time of the year to say, 'Hey, my finances have changed,'" Votava said.

Take a look to see if your income has dropped to the next category. Then, notify the Social Security Administration that your personal situation has changed.

You can also expect to receive a notice in November as to what your Medicare premiums will be, but you can also check online at Medicare.gov.

Review your prescription plan coverage

You may want to shop around for other coverage, particularly when it comes to prescription drugs.

"The majority of people overspend on Medicare because they don't have a plan that meets their needs, particularly prescription drug coverage," Votava said.

If you had new high-cost medications this year, or your plan will charge you more for your existing medications next year, or you have had bad customer service, it's time to look around, Votava said.

"This is the time of year when you can shop and change with no penalty," Votava said.

Seek financial help if you need it

If you are having problems paying your Medicare premiums and your income and assets are low enough, you may qualify for help.

"If they are in a situation where they feel it is just getting impossible to afford that deduction from their Social Security benefit, there are Medicare savings programs, and they are in every single state," said Mary Johnson, Social Security and Medicare policy analyst at The Senior Citizens League.

Programs include the Qualified Medicare Beneficiary, which covers Medicare Parts A and B, and the Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary and the Qualifying Individual program, which pay for Medicare Part B premiums.

To be eligible, you must meet your state's income and asset limits. Those limits also vary by program.

Certain assets — such as your house, car, burial space and life insurance with a cash value of less than $1,500 — can be excluded.

Get advice while you still can

There are plenty of resources to help you figure out what Medicare coverage is right for you.

You can get help by contacting Medicare directly. Your local State Health Insurance Assistance Program — or SHIP — can also asssit you.

"The vast majority of people wait until the last week when there's no resources left, so don't procrastinate," Votava said.

Be proactive

With a little time and effort, you can successfully compare Medicare plans, Votava said.

"Stick to the basics, get organized, pull your list together," Votava said. "It has a lot of steps, but it really is doable."


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