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Ready...Set...Go...Here’s your game plan for the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period

Written by John Ferrari

OK, you know the drill: Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. That’s game time. During this period you can evaluate your own Medicare Advantage (aka Part C) and/or Part D prescription drug plans and compare them to all the other plans on the market. If you find a plan that better fits your needs, you can switch to that Medicare Advantage and/or Part D plan. Additionally, if you have Original Medicare (Parts A and B) you can join or drop a Part D prescription drug plan or switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan; you can also switch from a Medicare Advantage plan to Original Medicare. That’s a lot to consider. That’s why you need a game plan!


…your comparison-shopping info

Each year, insurance companies can make changes to their plans, potentially affecting your medical and prescription drug coverage, provider and pharmacy networks and payments – including monthly premiums, deductibles and drug costs. Changes take effect on Jan. 1 – but insurance companies must announce any upcoming changes before annual enrollment begins, giving you time to examine changes to your plan and compare your current plan to other plans available in your area. You may decide to stick with the plan you have, or you may switch to a different plan offering better or less expensive coverage.

Here’s your pre-game scouting report: the Medicare & You handbook. If you’re enrolled in Medicare you should receive a copy in the mail right around the time annual enrollment kicks off. The handbook includes a regional booklet with a list of HMOs, insurance companies and other information specific to your area. If you’ve gone digital, the handbook is also available online (just search for “Medicare & You 2021”), although the online version doesn’t include information tailored to your local area. The website offers handy tools including the ability to search for and compare doctors and other health care providers, hospitals, inpatient rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes, dialysis facilities and additional medical services that accept Medicare.

You should also review your insurance company’s Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) pamphlet. Your current provider must send you an ANOC pamphlet by Sept. 30, presenting the plan’s current costs and costs for the upcoming year in a side-by-side comparison.

You can also bring in a coach: a trusted licensed insurance advisor or agent. Insurance advisors help clients navigate their Medicare options and weigh variables including medical needs, plan costs and plan coverage. Because they represent all insurance companies, explains health insurance consultant Vince Kelly, they are unbiased and can objectively compare different plans and costs. “We just want you to be happy and have the least cost… We can focus on what you want, what you need and what’s going to work best for you.”


...yourself up with the best plan

With your insurance company’s ANOC pamphlet you can see what’s going to change with your current plan. With the Medicare & You handbook you can compare your current plan to other available plans and choose whether you want to keep your current coverage or change your plan, all before game day on Oct. 15.

“One of the biggest things to look at is medicine,” notes independent health insurance agent Rose Straub. “It’s really important to look up the medicines you’re taking.” There can be significant differences in brand-name prescription drug coverage. Based on differences in drug coverage alone, Straub says, you may be able to narrow a choice of eight plans down to the two or three providing the best coverage for the medications you take. Kelly adds your out-of-pocket cost for most brand-name prescription drugs should be around $40 to $50 per month. If you’re paying much more for one or more of your prescriptions, there’s probably a different plan with those specific medications available for less. “ allows you to enter the medicines you take and find out which HMOs cover them, and which prescription drug plan works best for your combination,” Straub says. The handbook also lists, for example, the vision and hearing benefits of each plan, which can make a big difference if you wear glasses or hearing aids.


…with the best Medicare plan for you

Medicare & You lets you know how to sign up for a plan and how Medicare and other medical insurance coverage work together. When you’re ready, you can enroll with your licensed agent or on (click on “Sign Up/Change Plans”).

There’s a new player on the opposing team this year: COVID-19. The good news, says Kelly, is insurance companies have adapted well to physcial distancing by expanding online options for their clients. “All the companies have adapted really well for everybody involved…There are new processes for enrolling online, so people don’t have to go anywhere, and I think people are realizing it works well. It’s quite convenient. Whether you’re calling in to insurance companies or to consultants you can score the winning play for the best Medicare coverage for you – with plenty of time left on the annual enrollment clock.” 

Torrance Memorial IPA offers a monthly overview of Medicare, Medicare 101, as a Zoom webinar. For information, visit our Medicare 101 page for specific times and dates. Or contact an agent, such as Vince Kelly, (310) 625-1837 (, or Rose Straub, (310) 715-2300 ( for a free consultation.