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A Complete Guide to Medicare Open Enrollment

Open Enrollment is from October 15th through December 7th every year. If using the Open Enrollment period to choose a new Medicare Advantage or Part D plan, that new coverage will begin on January 1.

A picture describing the Open Enrollment Period for Medicare which is October 15-December 7. Medicare coverage begins on January 1 for those who enroll during Open Enrollment.

Medicare Open Enrollment Period Explained

The Medicare Open Enrollment Period is an annual period of time (October 15 through December 7) when current Medicare users can choose to re-evaluate part of their Medicare coverage (their Medicare Advantage/Part C and/or Part D plan) and compare it against all the other plans on the market. After re-evaluating, there is a better fit plan, there’s an option to switch, drop or add a Medicare Advantage and/or Part D plan.

The Open Enrollment Period cannot be used to enroll in Part A and/or Part B for the first time. For more information on all of the parts of Medicare, and when you can enroll in them, visit our Medicare coverage map.

To get a better understanding of Open Enrollment try taking the Medicare assessment, which provides free professional advice about Medicare from a licensed advisor who meets The National Council on Aging's Standards of Excellence. Learn more about the National Council on Aging’s Standards of Excellence.

During the Open Enrollment Period (OEP) the following can occur:

  • Anyone who has (or is signing up for) Medicare Parts A or B can join or drop a Part D prescription drug plan.

  • Anyone with Original Medicare (Parts A & B) can switch to a Medicare Advantage plan.

  • Anyone with Medicare Advantage can drop it and switch back to just Original Medicare (Parts A & B).

  • Anyone with Medicare Advantage can switch to a new Medicare Advantage plan.

  • Anyone with a Part D prescription drug plan can switch to a new Part D prescription drug plan.

Re-evaluating Medicare Coverage During Open Enrollment

Each year, insurance companies can make changes to Medicare plans that can impact how out-of-pocket costs— monthly premiums, deductibles, drug costs, and provider or pharmacy “networks.” A network is a list of doctors, hospitals, or pharmacies that negotiate prices with insurance companies. They can also make changes to plan’s “formulary” (list of covered drugs). Given these yearly changes, it is a good idea to re-evaluate your current Medicare plan each year to make sure it still meets needs. Below are some additional benefits of re-evaluating coverage during Open Enrollment:

  1. Switching to better prescription drug coverage can reduce out-of-pocket costs and ensure drug plans still cover needed prescriptions.

  2. Save money and keep your doctor in-network by switching Medicare Advantage or Part D plans. Research shows that the average consumer can save $300 or more annually if they review their Part D coverage

  3. Find a higher quality plan. Plans with a 5-star rating are considered high quality. If you are enrolled in a plan that is less than 3, consider using Open Enrollment to switch.

Next Steps: Comparing Medicare Coverage

To re-evaluate and/or switch current Medicare coverage use one of the options below:

  1. Take our Questionnaire and get free professional counseling by a licensed benefits advisor from one of our trusted partners that meet NCOA's Standards of Excellence.

  2. Contact local SHIP (State Health Insurance Assistance Program) for federally funded Medicare counseling from a trained staff member or volunteer.

Once a plan is chosen that fits your needs, you will need to inform your physician and other health care providers of the new coverage.

Related Content

What is Medicare Advantage/Part C Coverage?
Medicare Advantage (MA) also referred to as Part C plans are private health plans that have contracts with Medicare.
Medicare Part C Costs
The 2020 average monthly premium for an MA plan is $36 but can vary from $0 to over $270. Medicare Parts A & B enrollment is a requirement before joining.
Understand Medicare Enrollment Periods
There are certain times when Medicare enrollment can occur. For some, enrollment is automatic but for others, they will need to apply.

Age Well Planner is an educational website created by nonprofit the National Council on Aging (NCOA). We provide information, resources, and referrals on topics such as: Benefits, Income, and Medicare.

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