Like the first tree to turn color in the fall, the Annual Notice of Changes is the first sign of the season – open enrollment season, that is. Reviewing and understanding this important document is the first step in making sure you get the coverage you need from your Medicare plan next year.

1. What is it?

If you have a Medicare Advantage, Cost or Drug plan, the Annual Notice of Changes (ANOC) tells you about changes to your current Medicare plan benefits and costs that will take effect Jan. 1. Not sure what plan you have? Check out the bottom of this post for resources.

Changes to premiums, covered services and costs

You should see a side-by-side before and after listing of services and costs. Depending on your Medicare plan, these may include:

  • Premium (the amount you pay each month)
  • Deductible (the amount you pay before your plan kicks in)
  • Copay (a flat fee that you pay for each service)
  • Coinsurance (as opposed to a flat fee, this is a percentage you have to pay for each service)
  • Maximum out-of-pocket cost (the most you’ll have to pay for covered expenses in a given year before your plan begins to pay 100 percent, including your deductible, copays or coinsurance)

This list will include new services that will be covered, services that will no longer be covered, and changes to coverage of existing benefits.

Changes to drug coverage

If you have Medicare Part D (prescription drug) coverage, your plan’s drug list (formulary) will most likely change as new medicines are added and certain medicines are moved to a different cost tier or removed from the list.

Related reading: Prescription drug formulary: What you need to know

Changes to your provider and pharmacy network

You’ll want to make sure your doctor, hospital, pharmacy and other health care providers are still on the list of providers your Medicare plan will help pay for (network). Your ANOC will most likely say that there are changes, but you’ll have to check your plan’s provider and pharmacy directories to find out exactly what changed. Your ANOC packet will include information on how to access the directories online or how to order a paper copy.

2. When does it arrive?

You should receive your ANOC in the mail (or by email, if you’ve signed up for paperless delivery) by Sept. 30. The key dates to remember:

3. What do I have to do when I get my ANOC?

To prevent surprises in January, you should review your ANOC and understand the changes being made to your plan. If you have a friend or family member who’s had problems with their current plan, check with them to see if they need help understanding the changes.

  • Review the benefit and cost changes and contact your plan if you need help understanding what the changes mean to you.
  • Check the drug formulary to make sure the drugs you’re currently taking are listed and what costs apply to the assigned drug tier.
  • Check the provider and pharmacy directories to make sure your doctor and pharmacy are still in your plan’s network.
  • If you decide your current plan no longer meets your needs, contact the plan to see if they have other options that may be a better fit. Also, you can visit and use the Medicare Plan Finder to compare plans available in your area.
  • Contact your plan to sign up for paperless delivery of your ANOC and save a tree!