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Medicare can be confusing enough as it is without navigating changes to the program. A number of new changes have been made in 2018 that affect everything from your Medicare card to premiums and deductibles. Here are the biggest Medicare updates you should know about.

New Medicare Cards to Fight Fraud

In April, Medicare began mailing out updated Medicare cards that are designed to protect the identities of Medicare recipients. The new cards use a randomly generated Medicare number, not your Social Security number. Old Medicare cards can still be used at hospitals and providers' offices through December 2019, but physicians can look up your new Medicare number at their office.

New Benefits for Medicare Advantage Plans

Medicare Advantage (MA) plans have been around for over a decade and account for one-third of Medicare coverage today. MA plans are so popular because they cover many things that aren't covered by original Medicare like hearing, dental and vision. The recently passed 2018 spending bill authorizes MA plans to expand coverage for a variety of items that original Medicare won't cover.

MA plans will soon cover items that aren't medical but improve well-being such as transportation to medical appointments, home safety equipment and home health aides for non-medical care. For original Medicare beneficiaries, paying for these expenses typically means paying out of pocket or turning to specialized medical insurance and long-term care insurance.

One of the biggest changes from the spending bill is that MA plans may soon be authorized to cover some long-term custodial care. This is one of the biggest coverage omissions of Medicare as the lifetime probability for seniors needing long-term care is almost 70%.

Narrowing Part D Coverage Gap

Part D has something called the coverage gap or doughnut hole which, means you pay more for prescriptions once the total cost of your prescriptions reaches a threshold that is updated every year. In 2018, once prescription drug costs reach $3,750, you are in the gap and pay 35% for brand-name drugs and 44% for generics until total prescriptions reach $5,000 at which point you pay no more than 5% for the remainder of the year.

This coverage gap has been narrowing since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and it will close in 2020. At that point, Part D beneficiaries will pay 25% of the cost for all prescription drugs.

It can be difficult to stay on top of changes to the Medicare program, but these new changes are among the biggest updates in decades. They also have the potential to save you hundreds of dollars on the coverage you need.

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