Open Enrollment Is Upon Us

Marshall Rathmell |

Open Enrollment season is upon us, and that means it’s time to take a look at your insurance needs, current coverage, and make any adjustments you need for the coming year. There are three major items to which this applies: employer benefits, health insurance, and Medicare.

Employer Benefits
Every employer has different dates and rules, but this is the time of year most of them have Open Enrollment. It's important not to assume that you want to keep the same benefits you currently have year after year. Some items, like Flexible Spending Accounts and Child Dependent Care, require enrollment every year; however, even with things that don’t require annual enrollment, it is strongly advised to look at the options and make sure you don’t need to make adjustments, especially to your Flexible Spending Account. You also need to review your employer’s benefits to make sure you're taking advantage of everything that might be of value to you.

Health Insurance
Health insurance Open Enrollment for 2017 on the federal Health Insurance Marketplace starts November 1st and ends December 15 for coverage starting January 1, 2017. This is the window during which you can enroll or change a plan through the marketplace. More details can be found on the Dates and Deadlines page at

If you are age 65 or over, Open Enrollment for Medicare for 2017 runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you are approaching age 65, you may initially enroll in Medicare during a seven-month period, which extends from 3 months before your 65th birthday until three months after your 65th birthday. If you don’t enroll during this time frame, you face late enrollment penalties on all future premiums.

Medicare typically changes the plans, what they cover, and what they cost every year. If you are already on Medicare, the Open Enrollment Period is your opportunity re-evaluate your needs and switch to new health and prescription drug plans that better serve your current situation, especially if your needs have changed over the last year. If you change your health or prescription drug plan, your new costs and benefits will take effect January 1, 2017.

If you are happy with your current plan, you don’t need to do anything; however, if you want to switch between Medicare and Medicare Advantage or pick a different Medicare Advantage plan, you can only make those changes during the Open Enrollment Period.

Most people choose Medicare Part A and Part B or a Medicare Advantage plan, and there are important differences you need to understand when choosing.

Medicare Part A & Part B provides less coverage than Medicare Advantage and requires additional policies and premiums to have comprehensive coverage. You will need a Medicare Supplement (Medigap) Policy to pay the 20% not covered by Medicare, as well as Medicare Prescription Drug Insurance (Part D). While your monthly costs will be higher than with a Medicare Advantage Plan, you will have more provider choice.

Medicare Advantage plans cover 100% of Part A and Part B expenses, and most plans include drug coverage. The monthly costs are lower, but you can only see network providers, and you are required to get a referral from you primary care doctor to see specialty doctors.

Pay attention to notices you receive from Medicare. The official US Government Medicare handbook, “Medicare & You 2017,” was delivered to current Medicare enrollees in early October 2016. Help is available by calling 1-800-MEDICARE or on the Medicare website,

-Sandra Cleveland-