For adults age 65 and older, Medicare is a key way to cover the expensive costs that aging brings. However, Medicare is confusing – a UnitedHealthcare¹ survey found that 20 percent of adults don’t know what Medicare covers.
And many seniors are confused about making changes to their Medicare coverage. Open enrollment is the only time each year you can alter your Medicare plan, and you don’t want to miss this crucial period. The following are the most important Medicare dates you need to know.
October 15 to December 7, 2018
From October to December, open enrollment begins. This is the annual enrollment period that lets you to make changes to your Medicare plan without any penalties. If you’re happy with your plan as is, you don’t have to take any action.
If you have original Medicare, your benefits will roll into the new year automatically. If you have a Medicare Advantage and/or Part D plan, you can use open enrollment to compare rates and switch to a new plan. If you choose not to switch plans, your current plan will automatically renew.
No matter what you’re signed up for, it’s a smart idea to take a look at your Medicare coverage and compare different options to ensure you’re both fully covered and not overpaying. Here’s a quick breakdown of what each part of Medicare covers:
- Part A is hospitable coverage and includes inpatient services, hospice care, home healthcare, and nursing facilities.
- Part B is standard healthcare coverage, including visits to your primary care provider and specialists. Parts A and B together are original Medicare.
- Part C is an optional Advantage plan that combines parts A and B with added benefits. For instance, some Medicare Advantage plans will include a Silver Sneakers membership and most will include prescription drug coverage.
- Part D is prescription medication coverage. If you’re not signing up for a Part C plan, you’ll need to add Part D to your original Medicare coverage to ensure you have access to affordable drugs as needed.
Keep in mind that insurance companies can change the rate for your Medicare Advantage plan even if you allow the policy to automatically renew. It’s worth your time to check the new rate and compare quotes online. If you find a more affordable plan, now is the time to switch for better coverage.
Medicare Advantage plans are offered by private insurance companies, and they can choose to cancel your plan for the new year. If this happens, you will receive notification by mail. You’ll need to secure select a new Advantage plan during this open enrollment period. You also have the option of going back to Original Medicare and signing up for Part D drug coverage instead of selecting a new Part C plan.
If you previously enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B but want to move to an Advantage plan, now’s the time to get Medicare Advantage quotes online and select a plan. If you don’t currently have prescription drug coverage, you can use this open enrollment period to sign up for a Part D plan. This is also the only time you can switch Part D plans, so make sure to get quotes online if you aren’t happy with your current Medicare drug plan.
January 1 to February 14, 2019
For six weeks in January and February, the 2019 Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period happens. Otherwise known as MADP, this period is for those who need to make additional changes.
If you enrolled in an Advantage plan during open enrollment period but it’s not what you expected, you can use this period to drop your plan and move back to original Medicare. If you choose that option, you’ll also have the chance to enroll in a Part D plan for prescription drug coverage.
You cannot move from one Part D plan to another during this period. You may enroll in a new Part D policy if you’re moving from an Advantage plan back to original Medicare, but you cannot switch between Part D plans.
January 1 to March 31, 2019
Starting in 2019, you’ll have the option to switch between Medicare Advantage plans during this extended period of three months between January and March. In years past, Medicare Advantage participants could only switch between Part C plans during the annual enrollment period. This new option gives you the chance to switch between plans one time before the end of March.
Think of this as a grace period that lets you to try out an Advantage plan. If your plan doesn’t live up to your expectations, you can do your research and secure quotes online before choosing a different Part C plan. You can only do this one time each year, so choose wisely.
Do Your Research
Whether you select original Medicare with a Part D plan or decide to join a Medicare Advantage plan, you can expect some out-of-pocket expenses. While these plans are designed to ensure seniors have access to basic medical care, your expenses aren’t fully covered. This is why many seniors choose to enroll in a Medicare supplement plan, which is also called a Medigap plan.
Supplement plans are offered by private insurance companies and are designed to cover your out-of-pocket expenses in exchange for a higher monthly premium. If you don’t want to keep track of copayments, coinsurance, deductibles, and other extra expenses, you may prefer to pay a bit more each month for a plan that is more comprehensive.
Think of this as paying upfront for those out-of-pocket expenses rather than trying to keep track of them throughout the year. The federal government strictly regulates what benefits are offered in each Medigap policy, so you don’t have to worry about differences in coverage from one company to another.
There are differences in the coverage terms between Medigap policies, so it’s important to do your research to learn about each policy type. Learn what the terms of service are for each plan, and then get online quotes to see what each policy will cost you per month. Pay attention to deductibles as well because that can dramatically increase or decrease your out-of-pocket expenses in the upcoming year.
Like anything, it’s always a good idea to be aware of the latest research. We recommend comparing at least 3 or 4 options before making a final decision. Doing a search online is typically the quickest, most thorough way to discover all the pros and cons you need to keep in mind.