Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) is right around the corner, making now the best time for those with Medicare to prepare. Whether you’re planning on sticking with your same plan or not, it’s always a good idea to explore your options each year. It can help you to save money and ensure you have the plan that best fits your needs. With that in mind, preparing for AEP will allow your exploration to be as seamless and stress-free as possible. But, how should you go about preparing for Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period?

Evaluate Your Plan Usage and Upcoming Medical Needs

Before you begin looking for your next plan, it’s smart to examine and evaluate the one you already have.

Looking Back

When evaluating a plan, you should first look back at the last year and see how it covered your medical needs. Was it adequate, covering the services you needed and used most? Were there any gaps in the coverage that you may want to fill this year? Did you use out-of-network services or spend more out of pocket than you originally planned?

These will help you answer the big question — did your plan cover your needs last year?

Asking yourself these questions, and more, will help you answer the big question you need to solve — did your plan cover your needs last year? Think about this big question in regard to both the services that were covered by the plan and how much you ended up paying out of pocket, between monthly premiums, deductibles, etc. In these instances, it helps to refer to your past Explanations of Benefits or Medicare Summary Notices.

Looking Ahead

Once you’ve scoped out how well your plan covered you in the past year, it’s a good idea to think about how it will cover and serve you in the future. Meeting with your doctor for an annual checkup is a good start. There, you can ask or find out about any developing medical conditions or concerns that you may need to plan for in the coming year. Are you expecting to need joint replacement surgery next year? Will you need a new medication that may not be covered by your current plan or that is very expensive? These are only a few examples of potential upcoming changes to your medical circumstances that may make it worth changing your plan.

Explore Your Enrollment Options

Once you’ve evaluated your current plan and looked into how your needs may change next year, you should check out what plans are available in your area. The first step will be choosing whether to enroll in Original Medicare or a Medicare Advantage plan. This will help you decide whether you can have additional coverage, like a Medicare Part D plan or a Medicare Supplement.

Choosing whether to enroll in Original Medicare or a Medicare Advantage plan can determine your next steps and need for additional coverage.

Using a tool like Shop & Enroll’s Plan Finder can show you plans in your area, as well as help you directly compare them so you know what you’re getting. However, it’s important to note that your options for the upcoming plan year will only be available around the start of AEP for the current year. Using the Shop & Enroll Plan Finder, you can look at Medicare Advantage plans (with or without drug coverage), Medicare Part D plans, and Medicare Supplements. The tool also allows you to directly compare plans side by side, which can make it even easier to make up your mind.

When comparing plans, keep in mind your upcoming and previous medical needs. Make sure that any plan you earmark fulfills these needs to your satisfaction. Picking a Medicare Advantage plan, for example, can be tough if there are many comparable plans nearby, so being able to look deeper into the plans can help you make up your mind one way or the other. Medicare Star Ratings can tell you about how well a plan performs at a glance, allowing you to quickly weed out some plans.

Talk with an Agent

If you want to discuss your options with a professional, or if you’re struggling to choose a plan that you feel is right for you, we suggest connecting with a licensed sales agent. Finding a great insurance agent isn’t hard. And, did you know you don’t need to pay a dime for an agent to help you choose a plan?

While working with a licensed sales agent isn’t required for finding a plan, we recommend it for several reasons.

If you’re using the Shop & Enroll Plan Finder, you can easily get in touch with a licensed sales agent while searching for a plan or by filling out the form under “Contact Us” on the page. You can also look for agents in your neighborhood, either by searching online or asking a specific insurance company, if you know you want a plan from a specific insurance company. While working with a licensed sales agent isn’t required for finding a plan, we recommend it since they can help walk you through finding the right plan without costing you extra.

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If you’re unprepared for Medicare’s AEP, you may find yourself getting stressed out as you look for a plan or giving up your search and sticking with what you already have, even if it’s not a great match. By taking a little time before October 15 to evaluate, explore, and talk with an expert, you can make sure you’re better prepared for the start of AEP and more likely to make the right choice for you and your situation.