Seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries should be aware that this year – perhaps more than any year in the past – is an important one to pay attention to their Medicare coverage options during the open enrollment period, which ends Dec. 7. And that’s because of the Affordable Care Act.

The ACA brings with it notable changes to Medicare, from more preventive-care benefits to changes in costs, and beneficiaries need to understand both the upside and downside of these changes in order to best evaluate their options during the open enrollment period.

Adding to the challenge of this year’s Medicare changes is broader confusion around the ACA itself.

According to a 2013 UnitedHealthcare survey, called the Medicare Made Clear Index, 76 percent of people age 60 and older say they have a “fair” or “poor” understanding of the ACA.

Thus, the open enrollment period becomes an even more critical time of year because, for most Medicare beneficiaries, it’s their one annual opportunity to make changes to their Medicare coverage.

After all, Medicare is not one-size-fits-all, and a lot can change in a year in terms of health status and budget, as well as the plans that are available.

I encourage the more than 55,400 Medicare beneficiaries in the Portland area and their caregivers to take advantage of this annual opportunity before the Dec. 7 enrollment deadline to make sure they have a Medicare plan that will meet their needs for the year ahead.

People can shop for and compare plans in their area at www.Medicare.gov.

Steve King

CEO, UnitedHealthcare Medicare and Retirement

Portland