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What Is the Medicare Open Enrollment Period?

Every year, the insurance companies that handle Medicare Advantage (Part C) and Medicare Prescription Drug (Part D) plans can make changes to their policies, which can affect coverage, cost, and the providers and pharmacies are in their networks. People enrolled in these plans will receive materials that inform them about these annual changes.

The Medicare Open Enrollment Period is a roughly 53-day period during which people can make changes to their Original Medicare (Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B), Medicare Advantage, and Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage plans. This is something that you can do annually, unlike your Initial Election Period, which only occurs around your 65th birthday.

When Does the Medicare Open Enrollment Period Take Place?

In 2011, the Medicare Open Enrollment Period was changed to October 15 to December 7. It should take place at this time during every year for the foreseeable future.

How Does Medicare Open Enrollment Work?

You can make a variety of changes to your Medicare coverage during the Open Enrollment Period (or Annual Enrollment Period), such as:

  • Switching from a Medicare Advantage health insurance plan to Original Medicare Parts A and B, or vice versa.
  • Enrolling in a new Medicare Advantage plan
  • Enrolling in a new Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage plan
  • If you did not enroll in a Prescription Drug Coverage Plan when you were first eligible for Medicare, you can sign up during the Open Enrollment Period. A late enrollment penalty may apply if you sign up during the Medicare Enrollment Period instead of during your Initial Enrollment Period, though.

What If I Don’t Want to Make Any Changes to My Medicare Coverage?

If you are content with your Medicare coverage for the upcoming year, then you can relax! If you do nothing, your medical plan will automatically renew. If your plan is being discontinued, however, then you will receive a non-renewal notice from your carrier and will need to change your coverage regardless of your initial preferences. You can change during your General Enrollment Period. If your coverage ends at a different time of year, though, a Special Enrollment Period will be triggered so that you will have the chance to switch to another health plan. This will help you avoid going without health coverage for your health care needs.

What If I Miss the Deadline for the Medicare Open Enrollment Period?

Did you miss the Open Enrollment Period this year? You still have the opportunity to change your Medicare Advantage plan or enroll in Original Medicare from January 1 to March 31.

Changing Your Medicare Advantage Coverage

If you miss the fall enrollment period deadline, or if you decide that the plan you chose during the Open Enrollment Period is a poor fit after all, then you can change your Medicare Advantage plan once during the first quarter of the year. You have the opportunity to:

  • Return to Original Medicare and buy a stand-alone Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage plan. In addition to signing up for a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, you can also sign up for Medicare Supplement insurance (Medigap policy) during this time. Then, you can use your Supplement plan to fill in the gaps left behind by your Part A and Part B coverage.
  • Switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan (starting 2019), such as if you’re unhappy with your plan, if you’re paying higher premiums and would like to look for monthly premiums that you can afford, or if you have end-stage renal disease and need to switch to a Special Needs Plan.

There may be other situations when you need to change your Medicare Advantage coverage. If your insurance company drops your Medicare plan, if you move out of your plan’s service area or if you lose your group health plan through your employer, for example, a Special Enrollment Period will be triggered. This will give you a chance to sign up for a plan outside of the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period so that you will not be without coverage. For example, you may want to sign up in time for your effective date to be the first day of the month that you will be without your previous coverage.

Enrolling in Original Medicare Part A and Part B

If you did not enroll in the Medicare program (Part A or Part B) for the first time during the Open Enrollment Period or when you were first eligible, then you can sign up during the above period, and your coverage starts on July 1. Medicare beneficiaries who do this may face a late enrollment penalty, however, such as paying 10 percent of the Part B premium for every 12 month period when you had Medicare eligibility but were not yet enrolled.

Want to Learn More About the Medicare Open Enrollment Period?

Figuring out Medicare can be just as confusing as learning a new language, so let us be your translator. We want to give you the extra help that you need with signing up for Medicare, choosing a Medicare Part C plan and more. At My Medigap Plans, we will help you to understand all of your options — from Medicare Advantage to Medicare Part D plans and more — and make the best decisions for your lifestyle. Call us today!

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