3 important Medicare documents you need for open enrollment

The first installment in a special series on Medicare's annual open enrollment period.

Phil Moeller is doing a series of special pieces to help Considerable readers get ready for Medicare’s annual open enrollment period, which begins Oct. 15 and extends through Dec. 7. During this period, more than 60 million people who already have Medicare can keep their plans or totally change them for 2020.

There are three major documents provided to Medicare enrollees each September. If people gave them a close read every year, I might just be out of a job. But many don’t, so you’re stuck with me.

1. Medicare & You

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) each year produces a new version of Medicare & You, its soup-to-nuts compendium of program rules and tips. Over time, Medicare & You has evolved into an excellent program primer. The 120-page 2020 edition is worth your time. Use it as a program FAQ as you begin (I hope) to think about the Medicare decisions you’lll make later this year. 

It explains most of the contentious topics that fill my reader mailbox. These include explaining the different sign-up periods for Medicare, penalties for late enrollments, how the program works with other kinds of health insurance (most notably COBRA), benefits for lower-income beneficiaries, and how people with health savings accounts who continue working past age 65 are affected when receiving Social Security benefits.

2. Annual Notice of Change

The other two documents are provided by the private insurance plans for Medicare beneficiaries — 22 million with Medicare Advantage (MA) and 45 million with Part D drug plans. Insurers are required to provide current customers with detailed looks in September about important changes to their plans in 2020. 

The Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) document will tell them of meaningful changes in their plan from 2019 to 2020, including changes in premiums and copays, annual deductibles, and drugs being added or removed from Part D formularies. 

3. Explanation of Benefits

A much large Explanation of Benefits (EOB) document provides an in-depth look at what their plan will cover in 2020 and details about insurance and possible out-of-pocket costs. The two documents may be mailed or delivered electronically; they also may be bundled together.

(People with private Medigap supplement policies will also get a brief notice from their insurers about any major changes in to their plans in 2020.)

Surveys show that many people fail to read these documents, and thus miss out on ways to save money and improve their coverage.

Future pieces in this series will explore important things to look for in 2020 Medicare plans. Plan costs and coverage features can change greatly from one year to the next, but it will be hard to make an informed decision without taking a careful look at your ANOC and EOB documents. Surveys show that many people fail to read or even save these documents, and thus miss out on ways to save money and also improve their health coverage.

Related articles: