How To Prepare for the Annual Medicare Open Enrollment Period

How To Prepare for the Annual Medicare Open Enrollment Period

Medicare open enrollment is the period during which you can join, switch or drop a Medicare health plan, prescription drug plan or Medicare Advantage Plan. Each year, Medicare open enrollment is open from October 15 to December 7; the coverage you choose begins on January 1 of the following year. For the 2022 open enrollment period, this means that any Medicare plan you choose will begin on January 1, 2023, as long as the plan receives your request by December 7, 2022.

With so many Medicare options and plans available, deciding which types of Medicare coverage fit both your needs and your financial plans can feel daunting. There's no need to be overwhelmed, though. Learning about Medicare coverage plans and how open enrollment works makes it easier to make informed Medicare coverage choices.

Why Is Medicare Open Enrollment Important?

If you're enrolled in a Medicare plan during open enrollment, you can use this period to make changes to the plan you already have. For instance, you might add Medicare Part B, a Medicare drug plan or a Medicare Advantage Plan. You can also drop coverage during this period or change to a different Medicare Advantage Plan. If you turned 65 in 2022 but didn't sign up for Medicare during your initial enrollment period — the three months leading up to your 65th birthday, your birthday month and the three following months — you can still enroll in Medicare during the annual Medicare open enrollment period.

Before you enroll in Medicare or change your coverage, here's what you need to know about preparing for open enrollment.

The Four Parts of Medicare

To make the best coverage choice for your unique situation, you should understand the different parts of Medicare and how each works — either alone or in conjunction with other Medicare coverage.

  • Original Medicare Part A covers inpatient hospital stays, short-term skilled nursing facility care, hospice care and some home health care. Most people don't pay a premium for Medicare Part A. However, If you buy Part A, you paid up to $499 each month in 2022.

  • Medicare Part B is medical insurance that covers preventive services and other medically necessary services to diagnose or treat a medical condition. Part B also covers ambulance services, clinical research, mental health services, limited outpatient prescription drugs and eligible durable medical equipment prescribed by a doctor. For 2022, the standard Medicare Part B monthly premium was $170.10 with a deductible of $233. Once you meet the Part B deductible, you'll pay 20% of the Medicare-approved amount for services.

  • Part C Medicare Advantage Plans include Medicare parts A, B and usually a Part D drug plan. You must purchase the Medicare Advantage Plan from a private insurance company, and your premium will likely vary by region.
  • Part D prescription drug coverage helps cover the cost of prescription drugs. Medicare Part D is optional, but it's available to anyone enrolled in Medicare. You can purchase a Part D prescription drug plan through a private insurance company or as part of a Medicare Advantage Plan. Medicare drug plan premiums also vary by region.

To shop for a Medicare Advantage Plan or Part D plan, visit the Medicare Plan Finder. However, it's important to note that if you don't sign up for a prescription drug plan when you're first eligible, you may have a late enrollment penalty added to your Part D premium later.

When You Can Change Medicare Coverage

If you want to add or remove Medicare coverage, you're only allowed to make changes during certain designated enrollment periods:

  • Your initial enrollment period: When you first become eligible for Medicare

  • Medicare open enrollment period: October 15 to December 7 each year

  • Medicare Advantage open enrollment period: January 1 to March 31 each year

For example, say you already have a Medicare Advantage Plan and plan to switch to another Medicare Advantage Plan. You could change plans during either the Medicare open enrollment in the fall or during the Medicare Advantage open enrollment period from January 1 to March 31. If you want to switch from a current Medicare Advantage Plan back to Original Medicare and join a Medicare drug plan, you can make that change during that same open enrollment period in the fall or during the Medicare Advantage open enrollment period.

The Medicare Supplement (Medigap) Open Enrollment Period

A Medicare supplement or Medigap plan is a private insurance add-on that Original Medicare enrollees can use to cover deductibles, co-payments and coinsurance costs not paid by Medicare parts A and B. You can purchase either a Medicare Advantage Plan or a Medigap plan — but not both. You must have Medicare Part B to be eligible for a Medigap plan, which is purchased through a private insurer.

By law, you have a six-month open enrollment period for Medigap that begins the month you turn 65 or older and have enrolled in Medicare Part B. This is often the best time to purchase a Medigap plan. During that period, you can buy any Medigap policy sold in your state, even if you have health problems, for the same price offered to someone in good health. However, if you wait to apply for Medigap coverage outside of that enrollment period, insurance companies may refuse to sell you a Medigap plan unless you meet certain medical underwriting requirements. To shop for a Medigap plan, enter your zip code in the Medicare Plan Finder for prices and coverage.

How To Prepare for Medicare Open Enrollment

As open enrollment for Medicare approaches, keep an eye out for notices in the mail. If you're enrolled in a Medicare plan, the plan will send a "Plan Annual Notice of Change" each fall to notify you of any changes in coverage, cost or service areas for the upcoming year. Also review the "Medicare & You" handbook you receive in the mail for updated information about Medicare coverage. You may also be able to find free help with choosing a Medicare plan at your state State Health Insurance Assistance Program. Once you understand your options, you can compare Medicare Advantage Plans, drug plans or Medigap plans on the Medicare Plan Finder to help you decide on the right Medicare health plan for you.

If you like your Medicare and drug coverage as it is, there's no need to do anything during Medicare open enrollment as long as your Medicare or drug plan will continue to be offered the following year. However, the time leading up to open enrollment is a good opportunity to examine your coverage and determine if you should make any changes. Understanding when different open enrollment periods are and what you can do during them helps ensure that your Medicare coverage fits your needs.

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