By: The My Medicare Matters Team
A new opportunity to switch Medicare Advantage/Part C plans is happening right now. The annual Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (MA OEP) which runs from January 1 to March 31 offers anyone enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan an opportunity to either:
- Switch from one Part C plan to another, or
- Switch from a Part C plan to Original Medicare and add Part D prescription drug coverage.
Think of the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period as an exchange period. Typically, when you enroll in a Part C plan during the Annual Election Period (October 15 – December 7) you have to keep the plan for the entire year until the next election period. However, with the MA OEP if you enroll in a plan that doesn’t fit your needs you can switch immediately after your new plan becomes effective on January 1. Once you select a new Part C or Original Medicare plan, your new plan becomes effective the month after your switch. You are only allowed to switch once time during the annual MA OEP.
You may ask, “why go through the trouble of searching for another Medicare Advantage plan again?” and the answer varies depending on your situation. You may have enrolled in a Medicare Part C plan in October, started using it at the beginning of the year and realized that the doctor you want to see is not in-network, or your out-of-pocket costs were higher than expected. Maybe you want freedoms not offered by MA plans like visiting any Medicare-approved doctor regardless of networks. Whatever the reason, you now have an opportunity to do so without facing any penalties. If you decide to switch to Original Medicare and enroll in a Medigap plan check with your State Health Insurance Assistance Program for Medigap enrollment information.
The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period consists of two separate periods in which you can switch plans. The previously discussed period was the annual Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (MA OEP) which runs from January 1 to March 31. There’s also an individual Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period that varies depending on when you first enroll in Medicare. The difference between the two periods is this:
- The annual Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period, January 1 – March 31, is for anyone already enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan at the start of the year (January 1) and would like to change coverage.
- The individual Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period is only for new Medicare beneficiaries who enroll in a Medicare Part C plan during the first three months they have Medicare. These individuals have an opportunity to enroll in another Part C plan or return to Original Medicare and a stand-alone Medicare Part D plan.
Both periods offer the same enrollment options, either switch from one Part C plan to another, or switch from a Part C plan to Original Medicare and add Part D prescription drug coverage. The only difference is when you’re allowed to do so.
How to use the MA OEP
Similar to other enrollment periods, to start searching for a new Medicare Advantage plan we recommend you start by taking our Medicare Questionnaire, created by the nonprofit National Council on Aging. You’ll get free Medicare advice from a licensed Medicare benefits adviser or local State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) to help you figure out your options and choose a new plan. Before you speak with a Medicare expert figure out what questions you should ask to find the best coverage for your needs.