The Medicare Annual Election Period Explained

Getting enrolled for Medicare coverage can be difficult simply because there are several different periods when you can sign up. But how do you know if you are enrolling for benefits at the right time? The Annual Election Period lasts for approximately two months each year and gives you a chance to evaluate your health benefits. During this time, you can switch between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans. This is also the time when you can join a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan.

What Exactly is The Annual Election Period?

The Annual Election Period occurs every fall, and gives you the chance to change or adjust your Medicare benefits. During this time, you can compare your healthcare needs to your current plan and decide if you need more benefits. If that’s the case, you can switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan. But sometimes people switch from a Medicare Advantage plan back to Original Medicare — that is allowed, too.

The Annual Election Period, also called Medicare Open Enrollment, gives you the chance to modify your plan based of your experiences over the past year, and update it to fit your needs. Sometimes this means adding on additional coverage or simply dropping it altogether. Here’s what you can do during the Annual Election Period:

  • Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan
  • Switch from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare
  • Change your Medicare Advantage plan to a different kind of Medicare Advantage plan
  • Switch from a Medicare Advantage plan that doesn’t offer prescription drug coverage to another Medicare Advantage plan that does (an option if you need medication benefits but your current plan does not offer them)
  • Change your Medicare Advantage plan that does offer drug coverage to one that does not (an option if you no longer need drug coverage and do not want to pay for the option)
  • Enroll in a Medicare Part D Prescription Drug plan
  • Drop your Medicare Part D Prescription Drug plan (if you no longer need it)
  • Switch to a different Medicare Part D Prescription Drug plan

The Annual Election Period runs from October 15 to December 7 every year. During this time, you can shop around for the best plan to suit your needs. If this seems overwhelming, or you have had major changes in the last year, contacting a Medicare Specialist at PolicyZip is a great option for seeing what options are out there.

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But What If I Want to Keep My Plan?

Changing your plan during this time does not cost anything, and you are not forced to change it if you do not want to. If your current plan is affordable, covers your healthcare needs and works just fine, you can choose to keep the plan. But, you should know that plans can change from year to year, especially with the amount of coverage they provide for certain services. This is more common for Medicare Advantage plans, which are offered through private insurance companies. So long as the company meets the same minimum requirements as Original Medicare, they can offer other options and benefits. These benefits may change annually, so it is a good idea to review the next year’s benefits and amount of coverage before the Annual Enrollment Period closes. By doing this, you will know for sure that your plan has remained the best option for your budget and health care needs.

Who is The Annual Enrollment Period Open To?

The Annual Enrollment Period is open to anyone with Medicare coverage. If you are eligible to receive benefits, you can adjust your plan between October 15 and December 7, each year. But, if you are new to Medicare, be sure to pay attention to your initial enrollment period. This is a different time period in which you can initially enroll for benefits and only happens when you first become eligible for health insurance coverage. If you miss your initial enrollment period, you could face late enrollment penalties that result in higher premiums each month throughout the time you have Medicare.

What If I Miss the Annual Enrollment Period?

Luckily, Medicare gives you nearly two months to weigh your options or make changes to your insurance coverage. But sometimes, those two months can go by quickly and you miss annual enrollment. If this happens to you, you will not be penalized. Instead, you will continue on with the plan you had the previous year. Unfortunately, if you needed to make changes to your health coverage, you will not be able to do so after December 7 except for in extenuating circumstances such as:

  • Moving to a new area where your plan does not offer service
  • You learn that you no longer qualify for aid from the Extra Help program
  • You have been released from jail
  • Your Medicare Advantage plan ends because the private provider ends a contract with Medicare
  • You become eligible for Medicare and Medicaid

In these situations, among some others, Medicare can open a Special Enrollment Period for you. This only applies to you and allows you to quickly make changes to your health care plan.

When Do I Get To Use My New Coverage?

There’s not too long of a waiting period between selecting your plan and using your new benefits. All plans either renew or begin on January 1 of each year. This means you will be able to get started using your health benefits at the start of the year. Your insurance provider — whether it is Original Medicare or a company through Medicare Advantage — will send you policy information and updated insurance cards if you made changes to your plan.

What Happens If I Do Not Like My New Plan?

A lot of work goes into researching your new plan and finding the right fit can be tough. Sometimes you may realize after selecting a plan that it is not right for you. In most cases, you will be stuck with the plan until open enrollment comes around again in October, or if a special enrollment period applies to you. If you do not like your Medicare Advantage plan, you can switch back to Original Medicare between January 1 and February 14 (a period called Medicare Advantage Disenrollment), but know that you cannot switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan. Fortunately, the Medicare Specialists at PolicyZip can help you prevent the same mistake from happening again. If you are looking for help in selecting the right plan this year, fill out the form below or call (844) 205-7510 to find your best-fit plan.