By Cinthya Quintana

If you’re a Medicare recipient, you may be familiar with the following –

The Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) is a document listing any changes in plan coverage, service area, or costs that will go into effect the following January. All Medicare plans are required to send this to plan members by September 30, or 15 days before the start of the Annual Election Period.

If you haven’t received the Annual Notice of Change by the end of September, you should contact your Medicare plan to request the document. You can find your plan’s contact information on the back of your plan membership card.

If you’re in a private Medicare plan, such as a Medicare Advantage or Medicare prescription drug plan, your Annual Notice of Change can help you decide whether your current coverage still meets your health and prescription drug needs. Remember that even small plan changes can make a huge difference in your health costs. For example, if a health service you rely on is no longer covered, you could end up paying high out-of-pocket costs for that care.

You should review the Annual Notice of Change especially carefully if you take prescription drugs to make sure all your medications are still included in the drug formulary (the list of prescription drugs covered by the plan). If a drug you take is no longer covered, you may want to consider switching to a different Medicare prescription drug plan.

Even if your plan doesn’t make any significant changes, it can still be worth comparing your current coverage against other Medicare plans during the Annual Election Period. Medicare Advantage and stand-alone Medicare prescription drug plans are sold by private insurance companies, which can charge different costs for the same or similar benefits.

If you find a plan that more appropriately meets your health-care needs, you can switch during the Annual Election Period, which takes place from October 15 to December 7 every year. Your plan is required to send the Annual Notice of Change before this period so you have enough time to decide whether or not you want to switch to a different plan.

Outside of the Annual Election Period, you may have limited opportunities to make changes to your coverage unless you qualify for a Special Election Period.

Other plan notices:  Your Annual Notice of Change is different from the Evidence of Coverage (EOC) notice that the plan sends every September. While your Annual Notice of Change focuses specifically on coverage and cost changes, the Evidence of Coverage is a comprehensive document detailing benefits, cost-sharing expenses, what your plan pays, and how the plan works. Both documents can be used to evaluate whether or not your current plan still meets your needs for the coming year.

If you’re in a Medicare prescription drug plan or a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan, the plan is also required to notify you if it makes coverage changes throughout the year. For example, if a Medicare prescription drug plan changes a drug on its formulary, it must send you a written notice at least 60 days before the change takes place or at the time that you order a prescription refill.

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