What Is Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment?
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If you aren’t thrilled with your Medicare Advantage plan (also known as Medicare Part C, these plans usually also include Medicare Part D coverage), there's an annual window to switch: The Medicare Advantage open enrollment period, which runs from Jan. 1 to March 31.
During this period, you’re allowed to do one of the following things if you’re in a Medicare Advantage plan:
Switch to another Medicare Advantage plan.
Drop it and go back to Original Medicare, and join a Medicare drug plan.
If you don’t have a Medicare Advantage plan already, this open enrollment period isn’t for you. For instance, you can't do these things:
Move from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan.
Join a Medicare drug plan if you have Original Medicare.
Move from one Medicare drug plan to another if you have Original Medicare.
» MORE: Best Medicare Advantage plans
Medicare Advantage open enrollment vs. Medicare open enrollment
Medicare open enrollment happens every fall from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people with Medicare can join, change or drop Original Medicare, a Medicare Advantage plan or a Medicare drug plan. Coverage for plan changes starts Jan. 1.
Medicare Advantage open enrollment, which runs from Jan. 1 to March 31, is only for people who are already enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan. If you have Original Medicare, you can't change plans during this time. Changes to plans made during this period take effect on the first day of the following month.
What you’ll need
If you’re thinking of changing plans, make sure you have the following information handy for comparison:
A list of your regular medical providers and hospitals.
A list of your prescription drugs.
Documentation from your current plan explaining your copays, coinsurance, deductibles and premiums.
A list of your current plan’s extra benefits, such as cost help with dental care.
Why you might switch Medicare Advantage plans
There are several reasons why you might consider changing from your current Medicare Advantage plan to another during Medicare Advantage open enrollment:
Lower prescription costs: One of the big differences between Medicare Advantage plans is the cost of prescription drugs from plan to plan. If you take maintenance medications, compare prices between plans. "One medication can make a difference of about $4,000," says Martha Gonzales, founder of brokerage firm CHM Insurance Services, who also notes that drug pricing is very individual. "I can have a husband and wife right in front of me and make completely different recommendations."
Lower copays: If prescription costs are comparable, consider how many times a year you see a doctor or specialist.
Doctors in-network: Sometimes, people choose a plan during Medicare open enrollment (Oct. 15 to Dec. 7) without knowing whether their doctor is part of that network, according to Gonzales. The Medicare Advantage open enrollment period gives them a chance to correct their mistake.
Better benefits: Medicare Advantage plans usually offer additional benefits, which may include some coverage for vision, hearing and dental care. Coverage from plan to plan will differ, and the best plan for you will depend on your needs. If you think you may need hearing aids this year, for instance, do some checking. Hearing aids "are high-ticket items," Gonzales says. "If your plan … doesn’t have hearing aid coverage and another one does, that can be a motivating factor."
The Medicare website is a great place to start shopping for Medicare Advantage plans. You can enter the name, dosage, quantity and frequency of each drug you take regularly, and the pharmacy where you fill prescriptions. Filter plans by available benefits, plan type, insurance carrier, drug coverage options and star rating.
You're allowed to change plans only once during this period. Once you've made a change, your new plan will take effect on the first day of the following month.
Medicare Advantage providers
Get more information below about some of the major Medicare Advantage providers. These insurers offer plans in most states. The plans you can choose from will depend on your ZIP code and county.