Medicare’s annual enrollment period allows anyone covered by the health insurance system to shop around and change plans. The enrollment season runs until Dec. 7.

I highly recommend taking advantage of the option. Plan designs change. So do your circumstances. It is worth researching the nitty-gritty of your health insurance plan to make sure it is the best and most cost-effective option for your circumstances.

The major components of Medicare include: Part A, which essentially pays for hospital services. Part A is premium free. Part B covers the costs of physician services, such as doctor visits and outpatient procedures. It comes with a monthly premium, adjusted for income. Part C is better known as Medicare Advantage, the managed-care option. Part D is the label for the prescription-drug plan.

Navigating the Medicare maze isn’t easy — far from it. The big choice is whether to go with original Medicare or Medicare Advantage. Medicare Advantage plans typically cover some services not included with original Medicare, such as dental and vision care. The price is the requirement that you use the plan’s in-network providers and pay more for out-of-network services. You must be in Part A and Part B to enroll in Medicare Advantage.

If you elect for traditional fee-for-service Medicare with its greater flexibility, you will want supplemental Medigap policies to help meet costs not covered by the plan.

The good news: There are excellent resources to tap into for research. Among them:

The government’s Medicare website — — offers a number of online tools, most importantly its Medicare Plan Finder, designed to help comparison shopping (although it still needs improvement).

“Get What’s Yours for Medicare,” a book by journalist Philip Moeller, goes into great detail about the program from the consumers’ perspective. Another knowledgeable journalist, Mark Miller, has created a new series of smart retirement guides for subscribers to his newsletter at (There is a subscription charge.)

Among the many helpful tools offered by the Medicare Rights Center ( is a free interactive online reference guide and a list of vetted resources. The Minnesota Board on Aging ( has a detailed booklet “Health Care Choices for Minnesotans on Medicare.” You can also call its Senior LinkAge line (1-800-333-2433) for counsel on Medicare.


Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace,” commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.