Take Advantage: Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment

If you have a Medicare Advantage plan and you want to make a change, this is your chance to do that, writes Robert Powell.
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Medicare’s annual open enrollment period has passed, but if you’re among the more 22 million Americans with a Medicare Advantage plan and you want to make a change -- maybe you selected the wrong plan, or you want to return to Original Medicare -- now’s the time to do it.

The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (MA-OEP), which is different from the Open Enrollment Period for Medicare Advantage and Medicare prescription drug coverage, runs through March 31.

And during this time, you can do the following:

  • If you’re in a Medicare Advantage plan (with or without drug coverage), you can switch to another Medicare Advantage plan (with or without drug coverage).
  • You can drop your Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare.
  • You'll also be able to join a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan. 

What you cannot do, however, is this:

  • Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan.
  • Join a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan if you're in Original Medicare.
  • Switch from one Medicare Prescription Drug Plan to another if you're in Original Medicare.

To be fair, not many people are aware that they can switch Medicare Advantage plans or return to original Medicare. Neither the government nor advisers will be calling or emailing you about this opportunity.

But it’s critical that you evaluate whether to change plans.

The sellers of Medicare Advantage plan are motivated to be as competitive as possible in your location, said Jae Oh, author of Maximize Your Medicare. “And that inevitably means a different, slightly different set of benefits every year, every single year,” he said. “I can't stress this enough that the idea that you would stay… with the same Medicare Advantage plan for five years is very unlikely just because of the nature of the competitive market.”

Use Medicare’s Plan Finder to evaluate which plan might be right for you.

One caveat: Beneficiaries can only change their plan once during the MA-OEP. “You don't get to change your mind every day through March 31,” Oh said.

Medicare Do-Overs

During the first quarter of the calendar year, beneficiaries who didn’t enroll correctly in Medicare during their initial enrollment period get a chance to correct their mistake, according to Oh. For instance, beneficiaries who signed up for Medicare Part A but didn’t enroll in Part B and/or Part D, or missed the deadline to enroll in Part B and/or Part D now have a chance to enroll.

Note, however, that if you enroll in Part B and/or Part D during the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment period from Jan. 1 through March 31, your coverage begins on July 1 of the year you enroll. Note also that you’ll likely be subject to late Part B and/or Part D enrollment penalties. For instance, if you didn't get Part B when you're first eligible, your monthly premium may go up 10% for each 12-month period you could've had Part B, but didn't sign up. Read this Medicare publication for more information.