Important mail will come your way from Medicare this fall, including an Annual Notice of Change from your Medicare Advantage or Part D plan.
Other mail and ads touting free benefits are marketing materials from plans themselves--learn to tell the difference!
The start of fall brings welcome changes like cooler days and colorful foliage, but it also brings the deluge of mailings and solicitations from insurance companies touting the benefits of their Medicare plans.
These ads coincide with Medicare’s annual open enrollment period, which runs from October 15 through December 7. If you are currently enrolled in a Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, this is your chance to change plans for the upcoming year. It is important to re-evaluate your plan choices given that Medicare plan costs and coverage change every year.
Be skeptical about ads touting “free” Medicare benefits
You may have seen ads on TV or received mailings and emails that tout free Medicare advice or benefits that appear too good to be true. Ads or mailings from Medicare health plans typically start on or just after October 1 each year.
These marketing campaigns are designed to prompt you to call a phone number, enter an email address, or register for an event to learn more about an advertised plan and ultimately sign up for that plan. It’s important to be skeptical of these claims, and to know what questions to ask when looking at plan choices.
Learn to recognize important mail from Medicare
The Medicare program is administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Be sure to open any information that comes from the CMS, DHHS, and the Social Security Administration. Below are the official logos that appear on the return address portion of the envelope which may help identify mail that comes from these three official government agencies.
Additionally, know that it is forbidden by law to use the words or symbols “Medicare,” “Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services,” “Department of Health and Human Services,” or “Health & Human Services” in a way that indicates approval or endorsement on any marketing or non-government correspondence.
How to identify marketing mail
Here are some tips to help identify materials that are promotional and do not require your attention:
- The material usually asks you to call, email, send a post card or attend a seminar to learn more about a Medicare plan
- The material may use language filled with superlatives such as the best, the most, the least expensive or sometimes the word free which is prohibited and an inaccurate description for Medicare plans
- The material often includes large colorful graphics to grab your attention
- The postage area may be imprinted with “PRESORTED” or “PRSRT STD” which is commonly used for mailing a large quantity of business or advertising mail
Report suspicious mail
If you receive a piece of mail that raises your suspicion, here’s what to do:
- Ask a relative or friend to review the information with you to determine if any action is required
- Go to Medicare.gov to review a complete list of the notifications and information that Medicare or your existing health and/or drug plan send out on behalf of CMS. The list explains the purpose of the mailing and the month it is sent.
- Contact 1-800-MEDICARE for help in determining the legitimacy of mail that claims to be about your Medicare coverage.
Open mail from your current health or drug plan(s)
Even if you are looking to change plans for the coming year, it is still important to continue to read the information sent by the plan(s) in which you are currently enrolled. Know the name of your current Medicare plan(s) and be sure to open any mail sent by the plan(s).
One important notice you will receive during the month of September is the Annual Notice of Change (ANOC). The document describes the changes in plan costs, benefits, formulary (approved drug list), and service area for the upcoming year. The ANOC will provide a baseline to compare your current plan to other plans during the open enrollment period.
Seek help before choosing a plan
The Medicare Plan Finder is an online searchable tool on the Medicare.gov website that allows users to compare all Medicare plan options, including Medicare Advantage plans, Medicare Part D plans, and Medigap supplemental policies available in a service area. Users can also enroll into a Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D drug plan directly from Plan Finder.
The State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) offers free unbiased Medicare counseling in every state. Counselors are available to help beneficiaries and their caregivers compare Medicare options and plans. Contact your local SHIP by early October to learn how to sign up for assistance.
A trusted local broker may also be an option to help you navigate your Medicare choices during open enrollment.
Important reminder: Never provide your Medicare number, Social Security number or credit card information or any personally identifiable information in response to any solicitation.