As you embark on the journey beyond 60, or if you’ve already crossed that threshold into your golden years, one of the things you have to begin thinking about in regard to your health and finances is Medicare.

This can be an often overwhelming and daunting task to take on as there are so many options and variables to weigh. One of the first steps of enrolling in Medicare is knowing when you’re eligible (when you turn 65) and when you’re able to enroll or change any plans you may have previously been enrolled in.

There are three different Medicare Enrollment Periods that you should be aware of, each of which have their own specific rules when it comes to applying.

It’s important to familiarize yourself with these rules and be sure not to miss an Enrollment Period as you could face steep penalties, including a delay in health coverage.

To get the best prices, better prepare for any decisions/changes, and avoid any hinderances to your coverage, it’s critical to know the dates and rules of each Enrollment Period and ensure that you sign up on time.

Medicare Annual Enrollment Period

The first enrollment period we’ll go over is the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period. Anyone who’s now eligible or a current beneficiary can enroll from October 15th – December 7th.

During this time, current beneficiaries can re-enroll in their plan or choose a new policy, and newly eligible Medicare beneficiaries can select their health plan. All policy benefits will take effect on January 1st of the following year.

You can also change your Advantage and prescription drug policies during this time.

What Kind of Changes Can I Make to my Plan?

You can make several changes to your current plan if you already have some form of Medicare coverage. Some of these changes can include:

  • Switching from Medicare to a Medicare Advantage policy – and vice versa
  • Enrolling or withdrawing from a prescription drug plan
  • Changing insurance carriers
  • Switching to a new insurance policy through your current insurance carrier

Am I Required to Switch My Plans?

You may be wondering if you’re required to switch plans, even if you’re happy with your current policy. The good news is, there’s no need to change plans if you love yours!

Most times, your current plan will renew automatically on January 1st. You should worry about making changes if you’re unhappy with your current policy or want to switch to another option that can save you money.

Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period

The second period that needs discussion is the Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period. Many people choose to boost their Medicare coverage with a Medicare Supplement policy, also known as Medigap.

Medigap helps to bridge the gap between Medicare and your out-of-pocket costs. Premiums, copayments, and deductibles can swallow your income if you’re not careful.

The best time to get a Supplement policy is in the Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period, which is a six-month timeframe that begins on the first day of your 65th-birthday month. An important caveat is that you must sign up for Part B to qualify for a supplement policy.

You can sign up for your Medigap policy without having to answer any health questions, which means if you enroll during Open Enrollment, you won’t have to deal with denials in coverage.

Outside of the Open Enrollment Period, insurers will use underwriting to determine eligibility. At that point, you’re buying insurance with your health. And unfortunately, if you’re not healthy, you might pay more or be denied a policy.

What Kind of Changes Can I Make to My Medicare Supplement Policy?

You can make several different changes to your current Medigap policy during the Open Enrollment Period. A couple of these changes may include:

  • Switching from your Medigap plan to an Advantage policy. You can’t have both a Medicap and Advantage plan at the same time.
  • You can also switch from your Advantage plan to a Supplement policy at this point.
  • You can change over to a Medigap plan if you move outside of your Advantage plan’s network area.

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

The final enrollment period we’ll cover is the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period, which allows you to make a one-time change to your policy at this time if you find yourself not having a full understanding of how your Advantage plan works or the doctors you want to use are outside of your plan’s network.

Any of these changes must occur between January 1st – March 31st every year. You can switch to a different Advantage policy or go to original Medicare. If you miss this period, you’ll have to wait for the Annual Enrollment Period to make any changes.

What Kind of Changes Can I Make to my Medicare Advantage Plan?

If you have an Advantage Plan, you can make the following alterations:

  • Switch to another Advantage policy with drug coverage
  • Switch to a different Advantage plan that doesn’t offer prescription coverage
  • Switch to Medicare and add a standalone drug plan
  • Switch to Medicare and forego a Part D policy

Make sure to talk with your insurance agent before you decide on an Advantage plan to confirm that you’re enrolling in a health policy whose network will align with your providers and the associated cost fits into your monthly budget.

Your new health coverage will begin on the first day of the next month following the alterations. For example, if you decide to switch your Advantage plan on February 15th, your new policy will take effect on March 1st.

Staying on Top of Enrollment Dates

Each enrollment period has different implications for every beneficiary. It’s important to be fully aware of which enrollment periods apply to you and carefully plan out ahead of time any changes you want to make.

Medicare is always changing and sometimes enrollment periods vary. You can stay on top of these important dates by setting a reminder in your phone or email calendar, or even a written notice on the kitchen calendar, and save yourself a lot of money and frustration!

How do you keep track of the enrollment periods and Medicare options available to you? Have you missed a deadline? What were the repercussions? Do you have any tips, tricks, or resources to share with our sisters? Please use the comments below.

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