Once you become eligible to sign up for Medicare, there are many plans available to choose from. Selecting the best plan can seem like a daunting challenge. You may find a good plan initially, but certain aspects of an insurance policy can change each year and so can your health. If you decide that you would like to switch Medicare plans, you have a few options available to you. When switching plans, you will need to aware of the different enrollment periods and which ones allow you to change your existing coverage.
What Enrollment Periods Occur Throughout the Year?
Annual Election Period
From October 15 to December 7 each year is the Annual Election Period. This period is also referred to as the Annual Enrollment Period. During this time, you can elect to make changes to your Medicare coverage. You can switch Medicare Advantage plans, switch Part D plans, drop Original Medicare and enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, or drop your Medicare Advantage plan and revert back to Original Medicare (and enroll in a stand-alone Prescription Drug Plan at this time).
Throughout this time, you are free to make as many changes to your policy as you’d like. However, in order to avoid delays in coverage, it is often best to try to limit the total number of policy changes you make during this time. Any changes that you make will take effect on January 1 of the following year.
Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period
This open enrollment period applies to recipients who are currently using a Medicare Advantage plan. This period lasts from January 1 to March 31 each year, and during this time, you can make one change to your healthcare coverage. You can switch to an alternative Medicare Advantage plan, with or without prescription drug coverage, or you can revert to Original Medicare (and enroll in a stand-alone prescription drug plan).
If you make a change during the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period, your new Medicare benefits will kick in on the first day of the month following your enrollment. For example, if you make a change to your Medicare Advantage plan at any point during the month of January, your new coverage will take effect on February 1. Keep in mind, you are only able to make a single change to your coverage.
Special Enrollment Period
A Special Enrollment Period is only available to certain individuals who qualify based on certain life events or circumstances. These SEPs allow recipients to change their Medicare benefits outside of the normal enrollment periods. There are various reasons why a person may qualify for one of these periods, including a marriage, the addition of a child, moving to another geographic area where coverage differs, loss of insurance provided by an employer, and many others.
To qualify for a Special Enrollment Period, you must place a request with Medicare and provide the required documentation in support. The duration and length of these periods and the amount of time it takes for your new coverage to begin differs based on the specific circumstance that qualified you for the enrollment period in the first place.
Enrolling in a New Medicare Plan
If you decide that you’d like to switch plans during an enrollment period, the process is quite simple. If you are currently enrolled in Medicare Advantage and are simply switching to another Advantage plan, all you need to do is enroll in the new plan, and you will be automatically disenrolled from your previous plan. However, if you are ceasing to use Medicare Advantage, you will need to notify your plan in writing in order to be disenrolled.