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Tips for Choosing and Using Your 2016 Medicare Health Plan

(StatePoint) It’s that time of year again: The Medicare Annual Election Period (AEP) begins October 15 and runs through December 7. Medicare is a critical source of health care for millions of Americans, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) sets this time for people to select and make changes to their plans each year.

As AEP approaches, the old adage “good health is priceless” remains true. According to a survey by Cigna, a leading health service company and Medicare insurance provider, health, well-being and financial security are strongly linked in the minds of Americans. Their research shows that many people have anxiety about their financial health that goes far beyond making health care benefit choices.

That’s why it’s crucial Medicare consumers consider their health and budget needs as they evaluate health care options for 2016.

“Choosing a plan isn’t as simple as just keeping the one you had last year or looking only at the monthly premium costs. The goal should be to choose a plan that best meets your individual needs,” says Herb Fritch, president of Cigna-HealthSpring, Cigna’s seniors business unit. “Comparing affordability alongside the plan’s benefits and services is an important balance.”

To help you choose a plan and get the most from it, consider these five tips:

1. Make a list of your priorities and use it to compare plans. Focusing on prevention? Keeping out-of-pocket costs low? Staying active? Take time to evaluate plan options according to the health and financial goals you value most.

2. Be sure your plan offers comprehensive preventive care benefits and use them. Many health plans offer preventive health benefits at little or no cost. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 100,000 lives could be saved each year if everyone received the recommended preventive care.

3. Know your network. Many plans offer choices with a network of doctors. Choosing primary care doctors and specialists in network can provide better communication and care coordination, and keep your out-of-pocket costs down.

4. Get rewarded for staying active. Keeping fit is essential to healthy aging. Original Medicare doesn’t cover gym memberships or fitness programs, but some Medicare Advantage plans offer such benefits as part of their coverage. Many are free and some reward you for staying active.

5. Use free resources. CMS’ Plan Finder helps you compare costs, covered medications and other items. Many insurance plans offer free seminars with no obligation to sign up. You can also check health plans’ websites or call their customer service number for more information. Local and state agencies on aging also connect older adults and caregivers with community resources. Your plan may offer newsletters with helpful information about your benefits.

As you weigh the options, Fritch offers this advice: “It’s worth it to take the time to set your priorities and see how plan benefits stack up. Only then can you choose a plan that really helps you get the most from it and reach your goals.”

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