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Do you want to make changes to your Medicare coverage? There are certain times when you can make these changes; some of these time periods are different depending on the type of Medicare plan. For Medicare Advantage (also known as Medicare Part C) and Medicare prescription drug plans, there’s an Annual Election Period (AEP) when you can sign up for, change, or disenroll from the plan.

The AEP runs from October 15 to December 7 each year. If you didn’t sign up for one of these plans when you first became eligible for Medicare (during your Initial Enrollment Period), the AEP is generally your chance to make these changes, unless you qualify for a Special Election Period (SEP).

What changes can you make during the AEP?

Here’s a quick rundown of what you can do during the Annual Enrollment Period:

  • Change to a Medicare Advantage plan from Original Medicare, Part A and Part B.
  • Change from a Medicare Advantage plan to Original Medicare, Part A and Part B.
  • Change from one Medicare Advantage plan to another (regardless of whether either plan offers drug coverage).
  • Enroll in a Part D prescription drug plan.
  • Change from one Medicare prescription drug plan to another.
  • Opt out of Medicare prescription drug coverage completely.

Changes you can make during AEP go into effect January 1 of the following year.

Making changes after the Medicare AEP

Suppose you're enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan and you want to switch to original Medicare, Part A and Part B. Starting in 2019, between January 1 and March 31 each year, you can make the changes during the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

  • Switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another Medicare Advantage plan (both with or without drug coverage)
  • Disenroll from your Medicare Advantage plan and return to original Medicare. You will also be able to enroll in a Medicare Prescription plan
  • If you enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan during your Initial Enrollment Period, you can change to another Medicare Advantage plan or go back to original Medicare within the first 3 months you have Medicare.

During this period, you can't

  • Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan
  • Join a Medicare Prescription Drug plan if you're in Original Medicare
  • Switch from one Medicare Prescription Drug plan to another if you're in Original Medicare

You can only make one change during this period and your coverage begins the first day of the month after the plan receives your enrollment form.

Medicare allows changes outside the standard enrollment periods in specific situations that are often out of the beneficiaries control, such as Medicare ending it's contract with your plan, through Special Election Periods (SEPs). Other examples include but not limited to:

  • Moving outside your plan's service area.
  • Receiving both Medicare and Medicaid benefits.
  • Living in, moving to, or moving from an institution such as a long-term care hospital or skilled nursing facility.

You could be charged a late-enrollment penalty (an amount added to your Medicare Part D premium) if all of the following is true:

  • you don't enroll in a Medicare prescription drug plan ( such as a stand-alone Medicare prescription drug plan or a Medicare Advantage plan that includes prescription drug coverage) when you're first eligible.
  • You don't have credible drug coverage for 63 or more days in a row.
  • You the decide to enroll in a Medicare drug plan at a later date.

It would be to your advantage to discuss your options with an experienced Medicare Consultant. Your consultant can do a cost-benefit analyses for the plans you like and can help guide you in selecting the right plan.

resources: Medicare and You 2019 handbook, https:/www.medicare.gov;

Kenneth Kiker (kennethk40@outlook.com) spent 49 years in the insurance industry before retiring in 2011 after working in United Healthcare's Tucson office for six years specializing in their Medicare division. He continues to work with Medicare beneficiaries helping them with their Medicare coverage decisions. Ken achieved his Certified Health Consultant designation in 1990 after attending the CHC school of Marketing at Purdue University and passing a series of national program exams.