Making Sense of Medicare Open Enrollment

The Do's and Don'ts of Picking a Plan

Medicare Open Enrollment
Choose the right plan for you during Open Enrolllment. hh5800/E+/Getty Images

From October 15 to December 7 every year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid gives you free reign to change your Medicare coverage. Take advantage of Medicare's Open Enrollment Period or you could be stuck with your plan for the coming year, premiums and all.

What You Can Do During Open Enrollment

Open Enrollment is your time to pick the Medicare plan that gives you the best coverage for the best price.

Here are your different options.

You can change from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage.

  • You can switch from Original Medicare (Parts A and B) to a Medicare Advantage plan (Part C).
  • You can switch from Original Medical to a Medicare Advantage Plan with Part D coverage (an MA-PD plan).
  • You can switch from Original Medicare with a Part D plan to a Medicare Advantage Plan.
  • You can switch from Original Medical with a Part D plan to an MA-PD plan.

You can change from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare.

  • You can switch from a Medicare Advantage plan to Original Medicare. 
  • You can switch from a Medicare Advantage plan to Original Medicare with a Part D plan. 
  • You can switch from an MA-PD plan to Original Medicare. 
  • You can switch from an MA-PD plan to Original Medicare with a Part D plan. 

You can change from Medicare Advantage to Medicare Advantage.

  • You can change from one Medicare Advantage plan to another Medicare Advantage plan.
  • You can change from a Medicare Advantage plan to an MA-PD plan.
  • You can change from one MA-PD plan to another MA-PD plan.
  • You can change from an MA-PD plan to a Medicare Advantage plan.   

You can change your prescription drug coverage.

  • You can sign up for a Part D plan.
  • You can switch from one Part D plan to another Part D plan.
  • You can cancel your Part D coverage.

What You Cannot Do During Open Enrollment

Open Enrollment has its limits. You cannot enroll in Original Medicare for the first time or sign up for Part B, even if you already have Part A. You need to sign up for these during your Initial Enrollment Period. This would be when you turn 65 years old (the enrollment period begins three months before and end three months after your 65th birthday) or when you lose coverage under a health plan sponsored by an employer that employs at least 20 full-time employees (the enrollment period extends eight months from the time you leave your job or lose that health coverage, whichever comes first).

If you miss your Initial Enrollment Period, you need to wait until the General Enrollment Period to sign up for Part A and/or Part B. The General Enrollment Period happens once a year from January 1 to March 31.

What You Should Do During Open Enrollment

Do not assume your current plan is the best plan for you. Too many seniors fall victim to convenience and take the easy route when a change in plans could mean better, more affordable care.

 Costs change. Coverage changes. Your health changes. It is in your best interest to do a little shopping around every year.

If you are not sure where to turn to for help, you can compare different plans at medicare.gov/find-a-plan. You may also consider reaching out to your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) for advice.

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