Consumer advocates are warning senior citizens about some key Medicare changes coming for 2020. The annual open enrollment period began Oct. 15 and closes Dec. 7, with plan coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2020.

The Plan Finder tool on the Medicare website, revamped this year, has been tweaked a few times even after the enrollment period began. If you relied on the tool and have already selected a plan, remember you can continue to make changes until the deadline. So, it might make sense to revisit your selections now at

“The Plan Finder did need to be updated, but the timing was not ideal,” said David Lipshutz, associate director for the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “There was a rush to complete the project and now ... confusion reigns.”

Also new: Medicare Advantage plans, also called Medicare Part C plans, began offering non-medical services such as meal services and home modifications in the 2019 plan year, and in 2020 this will expand to include more services for people with chronic conditions.

And Medicare Advantage plans, offered by private insurers, can now offer discounted plans to individuals with certain medical conditions such as diabetes and congestive heart failure, another reason to scrutinize all the options available. Up to 1.3 million Medicare Advantage enrollees will be offered the lower-cost plans. And nearly 14 million will have access to telehealth services.

All told, there are roughly 1,200 more Medicare Advantage plans available for 2020 than there were in 2018, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The plan discounts only go to people who meet specific medical criteria, and Lipshutz fears seniors will sign up for the plans after seeing their heavy advertising this fall and then find out they don’t qualify for the lower costs. The advocacy group also generally urges seniors to look beyond monthly premiums and consider each plan’s total expected out-of-pocket costs.

“There used to be a firm distinction between educational events and marketing events” during open enrollment season as providers vie for plan participants, he said.

Recent changes to Medicare’s marketing guidelines for health insurers blurred those lines, however, which he says is worrisome.

“A lot of unsuspecting folks are going to listen to an educational session and then immediately get the hard sell with no cooling off period,” he said. “That’s something we have great concern about.”

Now more than ever, it pays to shop around.

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