If you are considering enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan during this year's open enrollment, which starts Saturday, Oct. 15 and ends Dec. 7 -- earlier than it has in previous years -- be prepared to do some research. This is not a retirement planning decision to be made lightly.
Here's some advice, some of it from MedicareRights.org:
- Who will be your doctor? Does your doctor participate in the Medicare Advantage plan you are contemplating? If he doesn't, who will you choose? Are there conveniently located physicians in this plan who are taking new patients?
- Talk to your current doctor. If your doctor participants in the plan you're contemplating, talk to him or her and to the office staff. They know all the good things and all the warts, so pick their brains.
- What other facilities are in the plan? Which specialists, hospitals, home health agencies and skilled nursing facilities will you use if you choose this plan? If you don't find them convenient now, they will be even less convenient if you have to use them frequently.
- What will you pay? How much will it cost to see your primary care physician? What is the cost and what are the roadblocks to seeing a specialist?
- How is out-of-network care handled? What if you get sick when you're spending part of your retirement in Florida, for instance? Will you be able to get care under the plan and how much will it cost?
- Talk to other participants. Ask around until you find some people who are in this plan and get their feedback.
- How stable is the plan? Medicare lets participating insurers drop their Medicare Advantage plans annually, so you could sign up this year and be out of luck next year.