Public and private health care insurance plans play important supporting roles in the current U.S. coverage strategy. Neither sector can do it alone.

People need to keep that fact in the forefront as the "Medicare-for-all" debate heats up, talk grows of a crippling national debt and seniors scramble to change their Medicare supplemental plans before the open enrollment window closes.

Some key details make up our reality.

First, 2018 brings a dramatic change in the Medicare enrollment process.

Cost Plans will no longer be available in much of Minnesota and Wisconsin - two of 15 states that offered them. As of Jan. 1, federal law will eliminate Medicare Cost Plans from counties where two or more Medicare Advantage plans compete.

Second, the burgeoning federal debt adds $1 trillion annually and is projected to rise to $2 trillion annually within 10 years. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders projects his "Medicare-for-all" plan would cost $1.3 trillion a year, which the newly elected Democratic majority in Congress likely won't rush to adopt.

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind represents western Wisconsin and serves on the Ways and Means Committee. He offers wise counsel and insight when he points out that most of the Democrats who successfully flipped seats did not embrace the single-payer proposal. Going down that road doesn't make "a lot of political sense." We add that this doesn't mean debate will end or that change won't come eventually.

Third, time is of the essence for potentially 500,000 Minnesotans and Wisconsinites who will need to change their Medicare coverage. Here are some important dates for them and everyone else to know.

  • Dec. 7 - Medicare Open Enrollment for 2019 concludes.
  • Jan. 1 - Medicare beneficiaries whose Cost Plan ends Dec. 31, 2018, and who did not enroll in a new plan will return to original Medicare (Parts A & B only) and will have large cost-sharing amounts.
  • Jan. 3 or later - Congress convenes.
  • Feb. 28 - The window closes for those who lost their Cost Plan to select a Medicare Advantage Plan and/or Part D prescription drug plan.
  • March 4 - The window closes for those beneficiaries switched to original Medicare to buy a Medigap policy without any health screening.
  • Jan. 1-March 31 - The Medicare Advantage Enrollment Period, new for 2019, starts.

Enrollment is top of mind because Dec. 7 looms. The 116th Congress will open a month later. For the health of the nation and everyone who living in it, we hope the cancer called political discord doesn't prevail.