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Annual window to shop for Medicare Advantage plans returns on Sunday

Open enrollment for Medicare opens Sunday, and seniors could have dozens of options.

During the enrollment period, which ends Dec. 7, people will have the opportunity to choose between traditional Medicare and privately run Medicare Advantage plans in their area, as well as prescription drug plans.

But research shows that most people don’t bother shopping.

The non-profit KFF analyzed a national survey of people with Medicare and found that only about a third compared their coverage options during a recent enrollment period.

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Medicare is the federal coverage program for those age 65 and over and some people with disabilities who are younger. Medicare Advantage plans provided by insurers frequently offer prescription drug coverage , as well as extra benefits like dental or vision coverage not provided by traditional Medicare.

A small portion of the plans provide rebates for the premium paid for Medicare’s “Part B” outpatient coverage, said Tricia Neuman, a Medicare expert with KFF, which studies health care issues.

“Part B” covers things like doctor’s officed visits, and the premium to pay for it typically comes out of Social Security checks.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Thursday the monthly premium for that coverage will climb 6% for next year to $174.70. That’s up from $164.90 in 2023.

The federal government also said Thursday that millions of Social Security recipients will get a 3.2% increase in their benefits next year. The cost-of-living adjustment means the average Social Security recipient will receive at least $50 more every month.

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Medicare Advantage coverage experts say people should review their coverage each year during the open enrollment window and compare it to other options, paying particular attention to how regular doctors or medications are covered.

The average Medicare beneficiary could choose from 43 Medicare Advantage plans for this year, or more than double the choices available in 2018, according to KFF.

Neuman said they don’t have a sense yet for the amount of options for 2024.

After this year’s open enrollment window ends in December, people will be able to switch to another Medicare Advantage plan or opt for traditional Medicare during another enrollment period from Jan. 1 to March 31.