Medicare Advantage plans, also known as MA or Medicare Part C plans, are offered by private insurers who are contracted by Medicare to manage Part A and B benefits in their coverage area. These plans often include extra coverage not provided by Original Medicare, such as routine dental and vision care.
When is the MA Open Enrollment Period?
Understanding the different enrollment periods for Medicare and Medicare-related coverage plans can be confusing. Some even overlap with each other. In the case of Medicare Advantage, there are two MA-specific open enrollment periods.
The first open enrollment period is just for MA plans and takes place January 1st through March 31st of each year. The second, which includes Part D prescription drug plan enrollment, is from October 15th through December 7th. Depending on which open enrollment period you’re in, different options may be available to you.
What Changes Can Be Made During MA Open Enrollment Period?
During the open enrollment period between January 1st through March 31st, Medicare recipients who are already enrolled in a MA plan can:
- Change MA plans without restrictions between MA plans.
- Drop an MA plan and revert to Original Medicare and choose a stand-alone Part D prescription drug plan.
During the Annual Enrollment Period between October 15th through December 7th, Medicare recipients can:
- Switch to an MA plan from Original Medicare.
- Switch to Original Medicare from an MA plan.
- Change MA plans without restrictions on differences between MA plans.
- Enroll in a standalone Part D prescription drug plan.
- Change standalone Part D prescription drug plans.
- Leave a standalone Part D prescription drug plan.
It’s important to understand that if you are not an existing MA plan enrollee before January 1st, you will not be able to take advantage of the Part C Open Enrollment Period from January 1-March 31. This is an open enrollment period available only to those Medicare recipients who have existing MA plans and are interested in changing to a different MA plan or returning to Original Medicare.
Because many MA plans include Part D prescription drug benefits, these open enrollment periods also allow for changes to be made when it comes to choosing a stand-alone Part D prescription drug plan. During the January 1-March 31 open enrollment period, you can only enroll in a standalone Part D prescription drug plan if you are returning to Original Medicare from an MA plan.
Other Enrollment Periods for MA Plans
If you’re still within the Initial Enrollment Period for Medicare, which starts 3 months before your 65th birthday and ends 3 months after the month of your 65th birthday, these open enrollment rules do not apply even if the timing of the initial and open enrollment periods overlap.
Special enrollment periods can be triggered by different life events, such as losing private insurance coverage through a union, an employer or a spouse’s employer. You can also be eligible for a special enrollment period of your current MA plan provider leaves your coverage area or if you move out of their coverage area.