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What You Need to Know About This Year's Medicare Open Enrollment Period

If you have Medicare, you don't need to participate in the new health insurance marketplace

Research different options and costs for Medicare open enrollment. (Richard Drury/Getty Images)

During Medicare's open enrollment period you can shop for Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D prescription drug plans, or keep the coverage you have. — Richard Drury/Getty Images

En español l If you’re a Medicare beneficiary, here’s something for your autumn to-do list: Go Medicare shopping.

Review your benefits and costs for 2014, compare alternatives and decide whether to keep or change plans during Medicare’s annual open enrollment period Oct. 15 through Dec. 7.

This year, Medicare’s open enrollment overlaps with open enrollment for the new insurance marketplaces or exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act, also commonly referred to as Obamacare — but don’t let that throw you. Medicare’s 50 million-plus beneficiaries, most of them seniors, will steer clear of the marketplaces.

Got questions? Here’s what you need to know about Medicare’s open enrollment in the marketplace era.

Q: I have Medicare. Can I use my online state insurance marketplace to compare and buy a Medicare Advantage, supplement or prescription plan?

A: No, the marketplaces (also known as health exchanges) are not for Medicare beneficiaries. They are mostly for uninsured Americans and do not offer Medicare Advantage, medigap supplemental policies or Part D prescription plans. Medicare is not changing because of the marketplaces. For a medigap or Medicare Advantage plan, consult www.medicare.gov.

Q: What if I mistakenly sign up for insurance on the marketplace, will my Medicare coverage be automatically canceled?

A: No, if you have Medicare coverage, you won’t qualify for insurance on the marketplace. But if you do sign up for a plan accidentally, cancel the marketplace policy.

Q: But I’m a Medicare beneficiary, and someone contacted me and said I could buy insurance through the marketplace. What’s up?

A: It’s illegal for someone to knowingly sell a Medicare beneficiary a marketplace plan. Watch out for scammers during open enrollment. Do not share your Medicare number or personal information with anyone who says he or she can sell you a plan through the marketplace.

Q: Can I get the premium tax credit that people get when they buy insurance on the marketplaces?

A: If you’re enrolled in Medicare, you’re not eligible for the tax credits that some people qualify for on the marketplaces, but you already get a substantial break on costs. The overall costs of care under Medicare Part B, which pays doctors’ visits, and Part D, the prescription drug benefit, are subsidized 75 percent from federal general revenues. Plus, if you’re a Medicare beneficiary with limited resources and income, you may qualify for low-cost Part D drug coverage under the Extra Help program. Go to www.ssa.gov, call 800-772-1213 or visit your local Social Security office.

Next page: More about Medicare and the health insurance marketplace. »

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