As we get older, there are more and more things to remember to do and when to do them.

I write everything down in my handy dandy little blue date book, which appalls my family, who swears by their smart phones for these things. It takes me a fraction of the time to write these appointments and reminder dates down in my book, as opposed to fumbling through my phone, dealing with the tiny spaces they give me. Oh well, old habits die hard. 

Birthdays, anniversaries, doctor appointments for both Grandpa and me, and social engagements all get written down in my book. I send him an email by the month for everything. Not exactly state of the art, but it works for us. One such thing is open enrollment for Medicare.

This year, the open enrollment period begins Oct. 15 and continues until Dec. 7 for 2020 coverage. During the annual enrollment period (AEP), you can make changes to various parts of your coverage, which include joining a new Medicare Advantage Plan or standalone prescription drug plan (Part D) and switching between Original Medicare with or without a Part D plan and Medicare Advantage. Any changes you make during Fall Open Enrollment will take effect Jan. 1.

In most cases, fall open enrollment is the only time you can pick a new Medicare Advantage or Part D plan, when you should review your current Medicare health and drug coverage — and if you are dissatisfied with your coverage for next year, make changes during this time period. Even if you are happy with your current Medicare coverage, look at other options in your area that may better suit your individual needs in the upcoming year.

We did a lot of research for this area — really, it was all Grandpa — and found only three options: Kaiser, United Health Care and Humana. Unfortunately, there is really only one plan our doctor honors, so that should be part of your research as well. Choosing a plan is not only about the monthly cost but about coverage and accessibility to your favorite health care providers. Monthly Medicare costs are taken out of your social security checks.

Our research showed people with Part D could lower their costs by shopping among plans each year. Each county and state has different options. There could be another Part D plan in your area that covers the drugs you take with fewer restrictions or lower prices.

There is a toll-free number for assistance if you want to join a Medicare Advantage Plan. Call 1-800-MEDICARE to find out which plans are in your area. When you receive the list of plans, check their websites or call to see which best fit your needs. Look at everything offered to you and weigh the differences before you decide. Make sure the plan includes your doctors and hospitals in its network. Confirm the plan covers all your current medications and that your pharmacies are also in the preferred network.

Write down everything about your conversations, including the date, the representative you spoke to and any outcomes or next steps. This information may help protect you in case a plan representative gives you misinformation.

Enrolling in a new plan directly through Medicare is the best way to protect yourself if there are problems with enrollment. If you are unhappy with your plan after open enrollment, check into The MA OEP, which also occurs each year from Jan. 1 through March 31, with changes taking effect the first of the month after you enroll. During this time, you can switch from one Medicare Advantage Plan to another, or switch from a Medicare Advantage Plan to Original Medicare with or without a Part D prescription drug plan.

If you are happy with your current plan, you do not have to do anything. Open enrollment is only for changes. 

This can all be quite confusing. I know it boggles my mind with all of the options. One helpful source is the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP), which provides free, objective information about Medicare. Volunteer counselors are on call to guide you through the maze of information and help you understand your specific rights and health care options. They can be reached at 1-800-434-0222 or on their website at www.cahealthadvocates.org/hicap.

As for us, we are very happy with our doctors and local pharmacy. Thanks to Grandpa, we were able to evaluate and decide.

Marla Luckhardt is a Brentwood resident who works with several local senior care and advocacy groups. Reach her at marla2054@aol.com.

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