3 Ways to Prepare for Medicare Open Enrollment

As the leaves begin to change color, we are reminded that fall is also the time to considering changing our health care options for the coming year.

Seniors looking at their laptop computer

Medicare's annual open enrollment (October 15 through December 7) provides an opportunity to join, switch, or drop Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D drug plans. The annual open enrollment period does not apply to Medigap or Medicare supplement plans.

It's important to keep in mind that Medicare plans change every year, so you should also re-evaluate how well your plan fits your needs annually.

Step 1: Review your Annual Notice of Change

You should have recently received your plan's Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) in the mail. It summarizes the changes in your plan's cost and coverage in the coming year. Consider the following when reviewing your ANOC:

  • See if the cost or locations of services or drugs you take will change for the coming year. Are the providers and pharmacies in the plan's network conveniently located?
  • Assess your health care needs over the past year. Has your health status changed this year, requiring you to see a new specialist or receive a new set of services? Is your plan continuing to meet your needs?

Assess your coverage needs

Once you've reviewed the ANOC and past year's needs, then you can assess your coverage options. If you decide to add or switch Medicare Advantage and/or Part D plans, here a few things you should consider:

  • Are the providers and services you need included? This includes preferred doctors/specialists, treatments, and supplemental benefits. When comparing plans, be sure you understand the limitations on each benefit.
  • Does the plan you're considering cover all the drugs you think you will need in 2021? Be sure to ask about any restrictions, such as quantity limits, or whether your drugs require prior approval from the plan.
  • What out-of-pocket costs will you incur when you see a doctor, require a hospital stay, or pick up prescriptions at the pharmacy? Most plans have an annual out-of-pocket-maximum, but prescription drug costs are not included in that amount.

Get trusted advice

There are a lot of considerations when choosing a Medicare plan, but the good news is that you don't have to do it alone.

  • My Medicare Matters (www.mymedicarematters.org) is an educational tool from the National Council on Aging (NCOA) designed to make it easier for people with Medicare (and those planning for Medicare) to make informed and confident choices about their health coverage and to make the most of that coverage.
  • For help understanding your Medicare options and how to save money on costs, you can contact your local State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) by calling 877-839-2675 or visiting shiptacenter.org.
  • People with Medicare also can compare 2021 coverage options and shop for plans using the Medicare Plan Finder or by calling 1-800-MEDICARE.

With the COVID-19 pandemic causing delays and longer call waiting times, NCOA encourages you to begin shopping early for coverage this Open Enrollment Period.


Source: Brandy Bauer, Associate Director of the Center for Benefits Access of the National Council on Aging (NCOA), a respected national leader and trusted partner to help people aged 60+ meet the challenges of aging. The NCOA's mission is to improve the lives of millions of older adults, especially those who are struggling. Through innovative community programs and services, online help, and advocacy, NCOA is partnering with nonprofit organizations, government, and business to improve the health and economic security of 10 million older adults by 2030.