July 8

Getting the Most Out of Medicare

By Rick Banas of Gardant Management Solutions

If you are on Medicare, here is a simple step you should take each year to make sure you are getting the most out of Medicare.

During the annual Medicare Open Enrollment Period, take the time to compare your current medical and drug plan coverages with other options that will be available in the new year.

Shari Hanson of ElderCare Services of DeKalb County emphasized the benefit of taking the simple step during her presentation on “Medicare and You” earlier this month at the Heritage Woods of DeKalb affordable assisted living community. Shari is specially trained as a State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) Medicare Counselor.

There may be changes to your current health and drugs plans that impact what is covered, the costs and the benefits. There may be plans that will better meet your needs. You may be able to save money or get extra benefits.

Options for Medicare Coverage

As Shari explained, Medicare can get confusing. There are two main options for Medicare coverage. One option is Original Medicare (also referred to as Traditional Medicare). The other is Medicare Advantage. There also are Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) plans and Prescription Drug Plans.

If you have limited income and meet certain conditions, you may be able to get help paying for some of your health and prescription drug costs.

If you qualify for Medicaid, you may qualify for additional benefits when you enroll. 

Original Medicare

Original Medicare has two main parts – Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance). You also can join a separate Medicare Drug Plan (Part D).

Part A helps cover inpatient care in a hospital, short-term rehabilitation in a skilled nursing care facility, certain home health care services, and short-term hospice care. Co-payments, co-insurance, and deductibles may apply.

Part B helps cover services from doctors and other health care providers, outpatient care, home health care, durable medical equipment, and many preventive services. A deductible amount ($203 in 2021) may apply. After you have met the deductible amount, Medicare begins to pay its share and you typically pay 20% of the Medicare- approved amount for the service so long as the doctor and other health care providers who provide the service accept Medicare.

You are able to go to any hospital, doctor, or other health care provider in the United States that takes Medicare. In most circumstances, you do not need a referral to see a specialist.

With Original Medicare, you can also buy Medicare Supplement (Medigap) Insurance to help you pay for your out-of-pocket expenses that are not covered by Medicare. Unless you have a Medigap policy, there is no cap or limit on out-of-pocket expenses.

Medicare Advantage

Medicare Advantage (known as Part C) is an “all-in-one” alternative to Original Medicare. Part C Plans are similar to HMO or PPO plans. They combine Part A and Part B coverage and usually Part D.

Medicare Advantage Plans may have lower out-of-pocket costs than Original Medicare and most Medicare Advantage Plans offer extra benefits such as some vision, hearing and dental benefits that are not currently covered by Original Medicare.

Medicare Advantage Plans have a yearly limit on what you pay out of your pocket for covered services. At the same time, you will need to use doctors and other health care providers who are in the plan’s service area and provider network. You may also need to get a referral to see a specialist.

Why an Annual Review

Here is why comparing your current Medicare coverage with other options that will be available in the coming year is so highly encouraged.

There may be changes to your current Medicare coverages that will take effect in the new year. There may be changes to the premiums, deductibles, and co-pays. There may be changes to the benefits. There may be changes to the hospitals, doctors and other health care providers that accept Medicare or that are part of your Plan’s network.

Likewise, there may be changes to other Medicare Plans that will take effect in the new year.

Your health care needs may have changed.

You may find that there are plans that will better meet your needs, provide you with additional benefits, and possibly save you money.

Open Enrollment

The Medicare Open Enrollment Period typically runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. If you are enrolled in Medicare, you can change your Medicare health and drug plans during this period of time. This includes going from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan, from a Medicare Advantage Plan to Original Medicare, or from your current Medicare Advantage Plan to a different Medicare Advantage Plan.

If you decide to stay with your current Medicare coverage, there is nothing you need to do. Any changes to your plan’s benefits or cost will take effect on Jan. 1.

If you decide to change your Medicare coverage, the new plans(s) will take effect on Jan. 1.

Please note that Medicare in past years has given those in a Medicare Advantage Plan the opportunity between Jan. 1 and March 31 the opportunity to switch from one Medicare Advantage Plan to another Medicare Advantage Plan or from a Medicare Advantage Plan to Original Medicare. Individuals are limited to one change during this period.

Comparing Plans

There are several ways you can get help choosing the Medicare coverage that is right for you.

▪ Personalized counseling is available at no charge from specially trained counselors at local SHIPS. The SHIPS are not connected to any insurance company or health plans.

To find a local SHIP near you, click here https://www.seniorsresourceguide.com/directories/National/SHIP/

Or you can go to . . .

Illinois              https://www2.illinois.gov/aging/ship/Pages/default.aspx

Indiana            https://www.in.gov/ship/2507.htm

Maryland        https://www.shiptacenter.org/about-medicare/regional-ship-location/maryland

Virginia            https://www.shiptacenter.org/about-medicare/regional-ship-location/virginia

West Virginia  http://www.wvship.org/

▪ You can visit www.Medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). TTY users can call 1-877-486-2048.

You can visit www.Medicare.gov/medigap-supplemental-insurance-plans to find out which insurance companies offer Medicap insurance in your state.

▪ You can visit www.Medicare.gov/plan-compare, usually starting about Oct. 1, to compare health and drug plan coverages that will be available in the new year.

If you would like to check on the quality of Medicare health and drug plans, Medicare has a star rating posted on the www.Medicare.gov/plan-compare website. The overall rating for health plans includes a look at whether plan members got screening tests, vaccines, and other check-ups to help them stay healthy; how well the plan works with members to manage chronic health conditions; the experience of members with the health plan; complaints from members; and how well the plan handles member calls and questions.






  • Tex Hooper says:

    I appreciate what you said about how open enrollment typically runs from Oct. 15th through Dec. 7th. I need to get my wife and I covered since I just got off my parent’s plan. I’ll have to see what kind of rider options fit our needs.

  • I appreciated it when you shared that it is great to get Medicare Supplement that can help you pay for your out-of-pocket expenses that are not covered by Medicare. My friend just mentioned the other day that she is worried about her mother who keeps on being sick lately since she is getting old now. I will suggest to her getting a Medicare Supplement plan for her mother so any medical expenses will be covered.

  • My dad has been thinking about getting some better medicare for his insurance because he wants to be safer. He would really like to get some help from a professional in order to be ready during open enrollment. I liked what you said about how he can see a specialist in order to take proper advantage of the yearly limit for what he pays on covered service.

  • Kate Hansen says:

    It’s good to know that open enrolment starts around Oct. 15th. My mom was at my house for dinner last night, and she was telling me about how she wants to look into getting medicare insurance and wanted to learn more about how to apply for it. I’ll make sure to pass this information along to her so that she can learn more about how to apply for medicare.

  • My uncle has been thinking about getting some better Medicaid services because he really injured his knees. He would really like to get some treatments from a professional that can allow him to be safer. It was interesting to learn about how he can have the right kind of payments that will make sure that it can have the right kind of coverage with the right kind of policy.

  • Jesse Ford says:

    It’s good to know that Medicare Advantage has lower out-of-pocket costs than original. My parents are looking to change their Medicare plan to something more affordable for them. I’ll be sure to let them know about Advantage plans.

  • Rick Jones says:

    Thanks for sharing that they do an annual review. It makes sense though. Because people change a lot within a year’s time.

  • It was interesting when you pointed out that Medicare plans can change when the new year begins. My parents are going to be retiring soon, and I would imagine that Medicare is going to be something that they will want to look into. It seems like they will want to work with an insurance agent so that they can know what Medicare options they have.

  • Braden Bills says:

    I want to make sure that my dad gets the most out of his Medicare plan. It makes sense that getting that set up properly would be important. I’ll be sure to work with a professional to ensure that it all gets handled right.

  • I do appreciate that this post highlighted that one of the benefits of medicare is that it has different packages and premium tailored to our needs. My wife is looking to get health insurance. I will remind her to consider her needs and compare them accordingly.

  • I blog frequently and I seriously want to thank you for the detailed information. This article has piqued my interest. I’m going to take a note of your site and keep checking for new information about once per week.

  • Rick Jones says:

    I am so glad that you mentioned how Medicare can get confusing. I was worried that I was the only person who thought this way. This makes me feel better about taking time to get the right Medicare plan.

  • Vivian Black says:

    After reading what you said about Part A in Medicare as hospital-related and Part B as outpatient care, it helped us decide how to make suggestions to my mom. She has just retired and she is looking into the different options of medicare. With this suggestion, she has decided to go with Part A and B since most of her expenses are outpatient-related. We will get in touch with a Medicare specialist tomorrow.

  • Eve Mitchell says:

    It’s good to know that you should have an annual review. I’m thinking about talking to my parents about getting medicare this year. I’ll try to talk to them this week about the medicare options.

  • It’s great that you explained that Medicare part B plans cover services from physicians and other health care providers. My grandmother is looking for the best Medicare insurance for her. I should advise her to look for an insurer that can provide her with tailored coverage.

  • John Carston says:

    It’s great that this article talked that consultation could help you gather information about new benefits for your plan. A few nights ago, my father mentioned he wanted to comprehend the benefits of his Medicare healthcare plan, and he asked me if I had any thoughts on what would be the best option for additions. I’m thankful for this informative article, I’ll tell him that we can consult a Medicare insurance plan service as they can help provide a more particular explanation of his insurance plan.

  • Millie Hue says:

    Thanks for helping me understand that Medicare Advantage insurance plans would be an all-in-one alternative and will have a lower out-of-pocket cost. I will suggest this to my mom because she mentioned that she wanted to get herself covered before she becomes a senior. I can imagine how this can help her find a coverage that she will be able to afford when she buys one before this year ends.

  • It’s helpful to know more about Medicare plans and what they include for your loved one. My mom wants to start researching her healthcare options so she’d make a well-informed decision when the time comes around, and I’m sure that your article could help with that. Thank you for the insight on checking your finances and medical conditions when choosing a Medicare plan.

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