The Medicare annual enrollment period starts Oct. 15 – about the time that kids are deciding who or what they're going to be for Halloween. 'Tis the season for some harmless scares.
Not when it comes to Medicare coverage, though. Many seniors are scared to make changes to their coverage, intimidated by all the options available. But adjusting your plan can be a good thing.
Change to or from a Medicare Advantage plan. With a Medicare Advantage plan (known as Part C), you normally pay a monthly premium and receive your original Medicare (parts A and B) benefits through a private insurer. These plans typically give you some extra coverage (dental and prescriptions, for example) and help you pay less out of pocket than if you just went with original Medicare.
Since the coverage provided by these plans can vary widely, as can your annual out-of-pocket expenses, it pays to shop around. Your choice of physicians may be restricted depending on the type of plan you have. If physician choice is important to you, original Medicare paired with a Medicare Supplement policy may be right for you.
Switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another. Even if you already have a Medicare Advantage plan, you may be able to find a better one. You could select a higher-rated plan, or move to one that offers lower monthly premiums, co-payments or a lower annual out-of-pocket cap. Or you might find a plan that adds additional coverage such as prescription drugs, dental or vision, that your current plan doesn't offer. This is helpful because what might have been the right plan for you last year might not be now. Ideally, you could find the same or better coverage with lower overall costs.
Join, drop or change a Medicare Prescription Drug plan (PDP). You may join, drop or change a PDP (known as Part D) if you have original Medicare, if your Medicare Advantage plan does not cover prescription drugs, or if you already have an individual PDP but want to explore other plans. While the general PDP rules are the same for all insurers, there can be significant differences between plans.
Monthly premiums, deductibles, co-payments and even restrictions on individual drugs may vary. To help choose the one that's best for you, make a list of your medications and spend some time with the Plan Finder at medicare.gov or usaa.com/legion. There you can enter your medications and compare deductibles, co-payments and overall estimated costs, as well as ratings of different plans.
Health-care costs can be the stuff of nightmares if you don't have the right coverage. So be proactive, do some research, and come January, enjoy the "treats" of your labor.
J.J. Montanaro is a certified financial planner with USAA, The American Legion's preferred provider of financial services. Submit questions for him online. www.legion.org/focusonfinances 
Have Medicare questions? Call USAA at (800) 292-8069.
This material is for informational purposes. Consider your own financial circumstances carefully before making a decision and consult with your tax, legal or estate planning professional.USAA means United Services Automobile Association and its insurance, banking, investment and other companies. Banks Member FDIC. Investments provided by USAA Investment Management Company and USAA Financial Advisors Inc., both registered broker dealers. USAA Financial Planning Services® refers to financial planning services and financial advice provided by USAA Financial Planning Services Insurance Agency, Inc. (known as USAA Financial Insurance Agency in California), a registered investment adviser and insurance agency and its wholly owned subsidiary, USAA Financial Advisors, Inc., a registered broker dealer. Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. owns the certification marks CFP® and Certified Financial Planner TM in the United States, which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board's initial and ongoing certification requirements.