Commentary by Kari Benson, executive director of the Minnesota Board on Aging; Jessica Looman, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Commerce; Jan Malcolm, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health; Emily Piper, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

While Medicare open enrollment is an important time for beneficiaries every fall, this year brings the most significant changes in the enrollment process since the Medicare Part D drug benefit was introduced in 2006.

Minnesota is especially impacted because Cost Plans, a type of Medicare plan very popular in our state, will no longer be available in much of the state for 2019 due to a change in federal law. This means about 375,000 Minnesotans will need to change their Medicare coverage.

As leaders of our state agencies, we have a unique perspective on the health of Minnesotans and what it takes to maintain healthy communities. Medicare and other health care coverage play an important part. We want to make sure Minnesotans on Medicare are aware of the timelines for the open enrollment process and of the help available to them along the way. 

Most of the one million Minnesotans with Medicare are not affected by the Cost Plan change, and beneficiaries in 21 counties will be able to keep their Cost Plans in 2019 because of limited Medicare options where they live. But the majority of Cost Plan beneficiaries will have to choose new coverage for 2019 or risk returning to Original Medicare, which could be very costly. They were notified of this change by Medicare and their Cost Plan insurers earlier this fall.

The 2019 Medicare open enrollment period has already begun. We encourage beneficiaries to review their Medicare options to make sure the plan they are considering for 2019 is both affordable and provides access to the doctors, clinics, hospitals and pharmacies they want and need.

The Minnesota Board on Aging’s Senior LinkAge Line can help. The free information and assistance service now and every year helps Minnesotans on Medicare weigh their plan options by providing them with free, comprehensive, unbiased Medicare counseling. This year, Senior LinkAge Line is extending its business hours and will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Friday. You can contact specialists at (800) 333-2433 and via chat at www.SeniorLinkAgeLine.com.

Also new this year is a Medicare Advantage Enrollment Period in 2019 during which someone with a Medicare Advantage plan can switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan, drop their Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare and add or drop a standalone Part D prescription drug plan.

Key dates for Medicare-related events in the next few months are now through Dec. 7 when Medicare Open Enrollment for 2019 takes place and any Medicare beneficiary can choose a new plan. Until March 4 beneficiaries who lost their Cost Plan and switched to Original Medicare for 2019 can buy a Medigap policy without any health screening. From Dec. 8 – Feb. 28 beneficiaries who lost their Cost Plan can choose a Medicare Advantage Plan and/or Part D prescription drug plan.

On Jan. 1 Medicare beneficiaries whose Cost Plan ends Dec. 31, and who did not enroll in a new plan will return to Original Medicare (Parts A & B only) and will have large cost-sharing amounts.

The Medicare Advantage Enrollment Period, new for 2019, starts Jan. 1 – March 31. This allows someone with a Medicare Advantage plan to switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan or drop their Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare and/or add or drop a stand-alone Part D prescription drug plan.

We want Minnesotans on Medicare to navigate these changes successfully for a healthy 2019 and beyond, knowing that excellent resources are available to help them.

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