2012 Medicare Changes

Every year, Medicare undergoes minor (or sometimes major) changes based on legislation moves in Congress, as well as adjustment for different financial conditions in the American health industry. As for major policy changes, much of what you know from 2011 remains in place, including 50% discounts on brand-name prescription drugs, improved preventative care coverage, etc—and in addition, new regulation has further enhanced incentives and improved customer satisfaction for Medicare beneficiaries across the country in 2012. Finally, some minor changes have affected the premiums and deductibles that you must pay. If you are curious about changes to your bank statements from last year, this article will help fill you in on what's different.

2012 Medicare Annual Enrollment Period

The first of a several important Medicare 2012 changes is the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) has changed some of their deadlines. This is the time for new seniors to enroll in a Part D prescription drug plan and Medicare Advantage plans. If you are seeking to enroll in one of these programs, the enrollment period now begins October 15th and ends December 7th. It's important to be very aware of these new deadlines, so you are not locked out of these particular benefits.

2012 Medicare Policy

But, another addition to the 2012 Medicare changes is a new policy that somewhat contrasts the deadline changes. On December 8th, 2011 the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services decided to allow beneficiaries to enroll in Medicare Advantage and prescription drug plans that have been given 5 star quality ratings (the Special Election Period, or SEP). This change will allow more flexibility and also allow seniors who have missed the prior deadline to still be given a chance to enroll in a plan that is effective for the following contract year. Talk to your local Medicare provider for more information about enrollment during the Special Election Period.

2012 Medicare Advantage Plans (Part C)

Other changes to Medicare Advantage plans are lower cost-sharing requirements for serious medical services such as chemotherapy, renal dialysis, and nursing care. There will also be new limits placed into effect that mitigate the amount the administrative positions behind these plans are allowed to spend on their own expenses. These changes are designed to benefit the consumer and alleviate excess cost. However, it's important to take note of how your plan's provider reacts to these 2012 Medicare changes, such as a reduction of extra benefits to compensate for tighter regulation. Take notice of any sudden changes that may occur in your plan, and keep track of the ratings of providers found at Medicare.gov.

Continued Health Care

Another area to be aware of is continued health care reform measures designed to create savings for prescription drug coverage. The new 50% savings for brand-name prescription drugs has been carried over since 2011 for Medicare Part D coverage beneficiaries who fall into the coverage gap ("donut hole"). Coverage for generic drugs in this gap has also increased to 14% in 2012—which is a 7% increase from 2011 rates. As health care reform continues, it's expected for continual changes such as this to impact your Medicare coverage. It would be a good idea to stay up-to-date with these 2012 Medicare changes and other provisions through official government resources, where you can track the progress of expanded health care reform measures as they progress in the country.

The Affordable Care Act

The Affordable Care Act passed in Congress is also introducing some new features in the 2012 Medicare changes. There will now be quality bonuses for Medicare Advantage plans that earn three or more stars. The star-system rates a plan's success in a number of categories that include preventative care and customer reviews. Through these new incentives, you can feel more secure as you enroll in a new Medicare plan that already has high customer satisfaction. It also encourages Medicare services with less-than-optimal reviews to step-up their performance and customer satisfaction levels.

2012 Premiums, Cost-Sharing and Deductibles

In addition to 2012 Medicare changes, there are minor annual adjustments to the rates of premiums, cost-sharing policies and deductibles. There continues a sliding-scale rate of Medicare Plan B premiums that depend on individual income rates to determine premium expenses, and in 2012 there have been minor adjustments including a 3.6% increase of Social Security payments (although this is off-set by minor increases in certain deductible rates).

Stay Up to Date

Staying up to date on the 2012 Medicare changes is important—especially so that you are aware of the time-frames involved with signing up for certain Medicare coverage plans, and that you are aware of additional options in case you miss an important date (such as the Special Election Period), and to also track the progress of the Affordable Care Act, as well as future provisions that could increase—or block—the benefits of this act. Overall, 2012 appears to be a more positive year for Medicare beneficiaries, and you can look forward to many of these factors potentially expanding your satisfaction, and savings, into 2012 and years beyond.