Now’s the time for Louisiana residents with Medicare to check their health and drug coverage for 2018.

Medicare’s open enrollment period runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.

Open enrollment is the best time to make sure your health and drug plans still meet your individual needs, especially if you’ve had any changes in your health.

By now insurers should have notified you of any adjustments in your health or drug coverage or any changes in your out-of-pocket costs for next year.

Even if you’ve been satisfied with your health and drug coverage, you may benefit from reviewing all your options. Shopping around may save you money or improve your coverage.

Medicare Advantage remains a strong alternative for people who prefer to receive care through a private insurer rather than through Medicare’s original fee-for-service program. Most plans include drug coverage.

The number of people buying Medicare Advantage plans is expected to grow by 9 percent to 20.4 million nationwide in 2018. Thirty-three percent of Louisiana residents with Medicare now opt to get their health care benefits this way.

Many Advantage plans charge a separate premium on top of the Part B premium you’ll pay for Medicare’s medical insurance. Nationally, the average monthly cost for that separate Medicare Advantage premium will be $30 in 2018 -- $1.91 less than this year.

Louisiana residents in Medicare’s traditional fee-for-service program who want to add prescription drug coverage can choose from 21 drug plans with monthly premiums ranging from $17.70 to $90 – about the same premium range as last year. Nationally, the average premium for a basic drug plan in 2018 will drop by $1.20 to $33.50 per month.

Look beyond premiums, though. The only way to determine the true cost of your drug coverage is to consider other factors like deductibles, co-payments and coinsurance.

Medicare’s website – www.medicare.gov – has the best tool for helping you narrow your search for a new health or drug plan. Just click on “Find Health and Drug Plans.”

After entering your ZIP code and the list of your prescriptions, you can use the “Medicare Plan Finder” tool to compare your coverage and out-of-pocket costs under different plans.

The quality of a health or drug plan’s customer service should be considered, too. To help you identify the best and worst, the Plan Finder provides star ratings for each plan. The ratings range from five stars (excellent) to one star (poor); three stars are average.

Higher-rated plans deliver a higher level of care, such as managing chronic conditions efficiently, screening for and preventing illnesses, and making sure people get much-needed prescriptions. Higher-rated plans also have fewer complaints or long waits for care.

Besides using Medicare.gov, you can call Medicare’s toll-free help line at 1-800-633-4227 or consult your “Medicare & You 2018 Handbook,” which you should have received in the mail in the last few weeks.

One-on-one benefits counseling is also available through your State Health Insurance Assistance Program. In Louisiana, you should call 1-800-259-5301.

Medicare’s drug benefit continues to improve. You’ll enjoy more savings on your prescriptions in 2018 once you land in the coverage gap, known as the “doughnut hole.”

You’ll receive a 65 percent break on your brand-name drugs and a 56 percent discount on your generic drugs while in the gap. The doughnut hole begins once you and your drug plan have spent $3,750 for your drugs.

If you’re having difficulty affording your medications, you may qualify for extra help with your drug coverage premiums, deductibles and co-payments.

The amount of help depends on your income and resources. But, generally, you’ll pay no more than $3.35 for each generic drug and $8.35 for each brand-name drug in 2018.

Thirty-nine percent of Louisiana residents with Medicare’s drug coverage now get such a break.

To learn more about whether you qualify for extra help, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/prescriptionhelp or call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213.

There’s no better time to check your Medicare health and drug coverage. Any changes you make will take effect on Jan. 1.