Open enrollment starts next week

Betty Cunningham, right, greets the 155 local residents that attended the final Medicare 101 seminar at the Chula Vista Recreation Center in 2012.

The one time a year when all patients can switch their Medicare plans is approaching, and local organizations are ready to help patients through the process. Open enrollment for the federal health insurance program starts Oct. 15. During this period, patients can switch Medicare health plans and prescription drug coverage for the following year. It runs through Dec. 7. “Start early,” said Betty Cunningham, Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders (SHINE) area coordinator for Lake and Sumter counties and The Villages.

Reasons to examine your plan: Patients may be happy with their coverage as is, but Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recommends enrollees at least review all materials their plans send to them, such as Evidence of Coverage and Annual Notice of Change documents, to ensure the plan still meets their needs for the upcoming year. Drug plans and their premiums change every year, Cunningham said. “They need to check out the best plan that’s available for them,” she said. If patients are sure that their current plans will meet their needs for 2020, and they’re still being offered, enrollees don’t need to do anything, CMS states.

Changes enrollees can make: Open enrollment is the only time when all enrollees can change from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan, or make changes to a prescription drug plan if you have Original Medicare. Patients also can change from a Medicare Advantage Plan back to Original Medicare, switch their Medicare Advantage plan or drop Medicare prescription drug coverage entirely. But during Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment, which runs Jan. 1 through March 31, enrollees can change from one Medicare Advantage plan to another if they already have one, but can’t change from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage.

Help understanding options: SHINE volunteers can help patients navigate the system, no appointment required. Before Dec. 7, SHINE meets 3-5:50 p.m. Oct. 18 and 25, Nov. 1, 15 and 22 and Dec. 6, and 1 to 4 p.m. Nov. 8 at Chula Vista Recreation Center; 9-11:50 a.m. Oct. 16, 23 and 30, Nov. 6, 13 and 20 and Dec. 4 at Eisenhower Recreation Center; 9-11:50 a.m. Tuesday and Oct. 22, Nov. 12 and Dec. 10 at Lake Miona Recreation Center;  9 to 11:50 a.m. Oct. 15 and 29, Nov. 5 and 19 and Dec. 3 at Colony Cottage Recreation Center.

Local options offer assistance: The Villages Health only accepts a few Medicare Advantage plans for primary care patients. Starting Jan. 1, TVH has added a second Medicare Advantage insurer for patients, Florida Blue. TVH will continue accepting UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage plans. It doesn’t endorse one plan over the other. To help patients understand all Medicare choices, including the

difference between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage, TVH offers free Medicare Simplified courses to the public. Call 352-329-3432 or visit for availability. Nine Health Insurance Resource Centers run by third-party insurance agents also are open to meet with patients.

Visit for location information.

Medicare Advantage: On Sept. 24, CMS announced that, on average, Medicare Advantage premiums in 2020 are expected to decrease 23% from 2018. Meanwhile plan choices, benefits and enrollment continue to increase. President Donald Trump praised Medicare Advantage during his address Thursday at The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center. “While many Democrat plans would eliminate Medicare Advantage, my administration is fighting to make it even better and much, much stronger,” he said. At the end of his address, Trump signed an executive order to expand Medicare’s private insurance options for seniors.