Medicare Enrollment: What Do I Need to Know?

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Hey Taylor - Is Medicaid free? I know it’s open enrollment right now but have no idea how the process works or if I’m eligible. I don’t want to fill out a bunch of paperwork only to find out I could have saved money by going directly through an insurance company. - Mitchell

Hey Mitchell - Great question and great timing, as people have less than a month until enrollment closes. For low-income households, Medicaid can be free. Depending on the state you live in, Medicaid expansion broadens the scope of potential applicants, though 17 states have not expanded federal coverage. This whole topic gets confusing in a hurry, so I’ll lay out some basic points.

Medicaid versus Medicare. People mix these two up since the names are pretty much identical and there’s a fair amount of crossover between them (some people even have dual eligibility). Medicare is the primary health insurance for people over 65 and it’s been that way for quite some time. It also covers younger people with disabilities. Medicaid, on the other hand, targets those with lower income, so eligibility isn’t as cut and dry and there are big regional factors at play. While both programs are government-run, you will find stark differences between the two. As for open enrollment, Medicare ends December 7 while Medicaid ends December 15.

No more mandate. As of this year, the individual mandate no longer exists so people aren’t penalized for opting out of enrollment. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should go without health insurance. Since it sounds like you don’t have coverage through an employer, going to the or to see what options are available for you before the cut off date is a good bet. Even if your state doesn’t offer expanded Medicaid, you’ll find some direction and learn more about cost and coverage.

Open enrollment ensures 2020 coverage. Since millions of people get policies through the state and federal programs, you have to get your application in during this window to confirm coverage at the start of next year. If you don’t have coverage at all you can still find 2019 plans, but the open enrollment period is specific to next year’s policies.

Nothing about health insurance is particularly easy, starting with understanding how the various plans and programs work. The only universal truth about the whole system is that insurance is vitally important so you don’t find yourself with insurmountable debt after an emergency. I hope this helps and you get a plan that works for you!