It’s amazing how quite the airwaves have become in the last few weeks. No more hyping and posturing. No more celebrities overselling. It’s been wonderful.

I’m not talking about the election. I’m talking about the 2021 Medicare Annual Enrollment Period (AEP). If I ever see Joe Namath again I think I’ll scream. All kidding aside I don’t think I’ve ever seen more advertisements and commercials for Medicare than this year.

The question is why? Medicare AEP comes around every year in October and ends in December. So why all the hype and overkill this year. Trust me there’s a method to their madness.

As the Biden administration takes over there will be an increased call for health insurance reform and a push for universal health care. Those of us currently on Medicare already benefit from the only universal healthcare system in the U.S. There are approximately 65 million of us on Medicare. One-third have chosen the “public” option of Medicare Advantage for their supplemental coverage, me included.

Medicare Advantage is sold by private insurance companies and administered by them. Medicare oversees the plans and programs but acts only in a supervisory capacity.

Selling health insurance is big business and even bigger money. UnitedHealth group, the biggest health insurer in U.S., reported revenues of $65.1 billion through the third quarter of 2020. It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that they don’t want to see this cash cow put to slaughter.

When the ACA was movng forward, the insurance industry was willing to “go along to get along” to avoid having universal health care shoved down their throats. It was the GOP that gutted the program leaving both the insurance companies and those covered by the program in limbo.

They don’t want that to happen again. This time they will have 25 to 30 million seniors utilizing private insurance for their coverage as a bargaining chip to offset the push for universal healthcare.

There’s no question there will be changes. The COVID-19 epidemic has shown just how fragile and broken our current system is — and maintaining the status quo makes no sense.

Speaking of changes. Every year right after the end of the annual enrollment period, I will get a call from a client asking if there is still time to review their plan and make changes for the coming year. Or I get calls from people who find out that their plan was changed without their knowledge by one of those 800 number call centers.

This year has been no exception — except This year I can tell them yes, there is something we can do. Starting in January 2020, Medicare instituted the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (OEP) for those who find that they were late to the party or bamboozled by an unscrupulous Medicare telemarketer.

The OEP is only for those on Medicare Advantage plans. This does not apply to those of you who are on Medigap plans. Medigap follows different rules and you can call me if you have a question.

The OEP runs Jan. 1 throuigh March 31. During the Medicare Advantage open enrollment period, if you are already enrolled in Medicare Advantage you can do one of the following:

  • Switch to Original Medicare (access to Medigap might require medical underwriting)
  • Enroll in a Part D RX plan
  • Switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan

Only one plan change is allowed during this window (unlike the fall enrollment period, when a person can change their mind multiple times).

So: If you missed the opportunity to review. Talked to your neighbor and found out that there is a plan better suited for you needs and pocketbook. Received a new unsolicited health plan. Or for whatever reason — Medicare has given you a “do over.”

For those on Original Medicare, remember that one time during the year you can apply for a different Medigap plan. But if it’s not during your one-time Medigap enrollment window, the insurer likely will use medical underwriting to determine whether to issue the plan and at what price.

Not sure if you can use the OEP? Give me a call and we’ll figure it out.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.

Fred L. Goldenberg is a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) and the owner of Senior Benefit Solutions, LLC, a financial services and certified health insurance organization in Traverse City. Questions or comments about this column or interest in our monthly Medicare classes can be directed to (231) 922-1010 or fred@srbenefitsolutions.com.

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