'Tis the season to pick your healthcare plan for the upcoming year.
Open enrollment ends Wednesday for Medicare, and navigating the choices can be a challenge. Tempting as it may be to put it off, waiting until the last minute is dangerous especially if you're new to navigating health insurance plans.
There are free or low-cost services that can help you pick a marketplace plan, but appointments can be difficult to get with the deadline looming. People can also work through insurance providers who help them evaluate the many options available to them.
"If you're in that 64 age bracket, I hope your mailbox is solidly in the ground. It is getting jam-packed every single day right now," said Anthony Kimbrough, chief executive officer of Farm Bureau Health Plans, based in Columbia, Tennessee.
When is open enrollment for Medicare?
There's a special initial Medicare enrollment period for people turning 65. Beginning three months before the month they turn 65, they get seven months to pick a Medicare or Medicare Advantage plan.
After that, if you're enrolled in a Medicare plan offered directly through the federal government you have from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 to pick a plan.
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If you're enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan run by private insurance, your open enrollment period will begin on January 1 and end on March 31. During this period, you can switch to a different Medicare Advantage Plan or switch to regular Medicare.
Kimbrough suggest that people eligible for enrollment, and younger family members who are helping parents or older relatives navigate the system, start by talking to a person they trust.
"How do you sort through that? You need someone that's either been through it and already has a product in place, a plan in place, or certainly has done all their research and gotten to that point to put themselves in a position to be able to help you," he said.
Can I change my health insurance plan after enrollment?
Typically you can change your elections during the open enrollment period. But afterward, you're locked into the plan you selected.
If you have a Medicare Advantage plan and want to switch to a Medicare plan you can do so during the open enrollment period. But once you finalize the switch, you cannot go return to a Medicare Advantage plan - even if the open enrollment window hasn't closed.
Medicare has a separate set of qualifying events that could trigger a special open enrollment period.
What are some considerations for choosing a plan?
Kimbrough says people should think about whether any factors have changed in their lives, such as a change in doctors, health conditions or finances.
"One of the misconceptions that's out there is that 'well, I've got Medicare, I'm done - Medicare is going to take care of all my all my needs going forward from from a health standpoint,'" Kimbrough said.
"Not true. Medicare is going to cover about 80% And that 20% can be a big number. You think about a hospitalization or unfortunately, cancer or something like that, and 20% quickly becomes big numbers that that are tremendously financially impactful."
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Medicare open enrollment ends soon - what Tennesseans need to know