Traditionally, people who wanted to switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan had to wait until the annual election period for Medicare, which runs from October 15 through December 7 each year. But Medicare in 2019 will work a little differently. Moving forward, a new Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period will run from January 1 to March 31 every year.
The new Medicare Advantage enrollment period applies only to existing Medicare Advantage plan customers. This new window is separate and different from the annual Medicare enrollment period, which is the time period to use if you want to switch from original Medicare to Advantage, change your
plan or review your options as many times as you need to get the plan right. Instead, the new enrollment period is for current Advantage customers, and it covers specific ground.
What can you do during the new annual election period?
Aside from the fact that you’ll be able to spend more time considering your Medicare coverage options, the new Medicare open enrollment period will allow you to:
- Switch to one of the other Medicare Advantage plans on the market
- Drop your current MA plan and switch back to original Medicare (Parts A and B)
- Enroll in an eligible Part D Prescription Drug Plan – but only if you opt to move back to original Medicare
The new Medicare Advantage open enrollment window gives customers quite a bit more flexibility in deciding their coverage. However, it’s worth noting that you can only switch your MA plan once during this three month period. During the standard open enrollment period in the fall, you can make as many changes as you need to. This special MA enrollment period gives you just one chance to make a single change before March 31.
Should you switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan?
It’s a good idea to take a closer look at your medical needs and coverage every year during the enrollment periods because your needs may change over time. For example, your current MA plan might stop covering a medication or treatment that you need, or you might develop a disease or illness that isn’t covered as comprehensively as you’d like.
Plus, new MA plans pop up from year to year, and you may find better coverage with lower copays or lower deductibles without having to pay more. Take this opportunity to make sure you’ve got a plan that works in your favor.
Do I need a prescription drug plan if I switch to original Medicare?
The answer to this depends on your medical needs. Some people never need prescription drug coverage, but it’s more likely that as you get older, you’ll need some medication from time to time even if you’re healthy. If you can find a good standalone Part D drug plan that doesn’t cost much – and there are competitive plans on the market – then it’s worth the investment. Even single prescriptions for acute illnesses, like flu, can add up. It’s better to have some coverage than none.
And if you’re someone who does need regular prescriptions, definitely look at your options for Part D plans if you’re switching back to original Medicare. Part B only covers drugs that you get at a doctor’s office.
What can’t you do during the new Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period?
Though the new enrollment window makes it easy to change your existing coverage, there are some things that you won’t be able to do during this window. That includes:
- Switching from an original Medicare plan to a Medicare Advantage plan
- Moving from one Part D prescription drug plan to another if you’re enrolled in original Medicare
- Signing up for a Part D plan if you’re enrolled in original Medicare
In short, this new Medicare Advantage open enrollment period is just for people with Medicare Advantage to make a one-time change to their coverage. Even if you’re happy with your current plan, take the time to review your coverage and make sure you’re getting the best bang for your healthcare buck. Checking to see if there might be something better could save you money and hassle in the long run.