If you are already enrolled in Medicare, the annual open enrollment period (Oct. 15 to Dec. 7) gives you the chance to review your current coverage, compare it with other options, and switch to another plan for the following year if you want.
(Note that open enrollment is not for you if you are just about to sign up for Medicare for the first time. You get your own enrollment period to do that.)
During open enrollment, you can switch coverage:
- from original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan
- from a Medicare Advantage plan to original Medicare
- from one Medicare Advantage plan to another
- from one Part D drug plan to another
- from a Medicare Advantage plan that doesn’t offer drug coverage to another that does, and vice versa
During open enrollment, you can also join a Part D drug plan for the first time if you missed your personal deadline for signing up. Or you can drop your Medicare drug coverage entirely.
Be aware that all of Medicare’s private options — Medicare Advantage plans and Part D drug plans — can change any of their costs and benefits each calendar year. Therefore, these plans are required to send a letter known as the Annual Notice of Change to all their enrollees each September. The notice explains what changes the plan will make for the following year in premiums, deductibles, copays and coverage.
This notice gives you the opportunity to compare your existing plan with others during open enrollment. You can compare the details of plans available to you in your area in any of three ways:
- Use the online plan-finder program on Medicare’s website, at https://www.medicare.gov/find-a-plan/questions/home.aspx.
- Call Medicare’s helpline at 800-633-4227 (TTY: 877-486-2048) and ask a customer service representative to perform the same search for you
- Contact your state health insurance assistance program (SHIP), which provides free personal help, and ask a counselor to help you identify the plan that best meets your needs and preferences. For the phone number of your SHIP, go to www.shiptacenter.org and select your state.
If you prefer to stay with the type of coverage you already have, you need do nothing. Your current plan will continue next year, but under the new conditions (including possibly changed premiums and copays) that it announced in the September notice of change.
If you switch to a different type of plan, your new coverage will begin Jan. 1.