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How to Plan for the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period

Every year, the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) or Open Enrollment kicks off Oct. 15 and closes Dec. 7. Whether you are newly eligible for Medicare or already in a plan, you’ll want to consider several items in preparation for the enrollment period. We outline steps to help ensure you get the most out of your planning.

Already Enrolled in Medicare?

The Medicare Annual Enrollment Period is an important time for you. Before the AEP starts, it’s always good to review your current needs and anticipate what you might need in the coming year.
Perhaps you now need prescription drug coverage. If your current coverage is not providing everything you need, you can now modify your plans for next year. Or conversely, maybe you obtained services this year that are no longer of value. The AEP provides an opportunity to drop or switch plans.
Furthermore, Medicare health and drug plans could make changes that affect your current plan for the coming year. Your equivalent plan for the next year could change how much it costs, the coverage it provides, what providers are in their networks as well as other policies and provisions.
To learn more about those potential changes, you can review plan information for the coming year), usually in early October. SelectQuote can help you compare plans, as well.
Finally, the plan providers will often send materials throughout the year outlining coverage and plan changes. When they send something in the mail, make sure to take a moment to review it for any changes.

What Can I Change During the Annual Enrollment Period?

In the past, we’ve written about understanding the A, B, Cs (and D) of Medicare plans. Knowing the Medicare options and best aligning them with your needs will help prior to the annual enrollment period.
You’ll use your assessment to determine whether you need to make one of the following changes during AEP:

  • Change to “Medicare Advantage” (Medicare Part C) from Basic Medicare (Medicare Part A and Part B)
  • Change from a “Medicare Advantage” (Medicare Part C) to Basic Medicare
  • Switch from one “Medicare Advantage” (Medicare Part C) plan to another (this includes switching to or from a Medicare Advantage Plan that does or doesn’t offer drug coverage).
  • Join a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (Medicare Part D).
  • Switch from one Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (Medicare Part D) to another Medicare Prescription Drug Plan.
  • Drop Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (Medicare Part D) coverage completely.

The changes you make during the Fall Annual Enrollment Period will take effect January 1.

About to be Eligible for Medicare?

If you’re not already in a Medicare plan and you’re about to be eligible for Medicare, you will want to pay particular attention on how to get started with Medicare.

Know What the Annual Enrollment Period Is and Isn’t

Unlike a company’s annual benefits enrollment, which can be inclusive of both new hires and current company employees making healthcare plan elections for the next year, the Medicare annual enrollment period functions a bit differently.
Some sources refer to the Annual Enrollment Period as the C & D change period. For those already in a Medicare plan, it is a bit of an oversimplification. But if you’re newly eligible it’s a good distinction because you will not be able to use the Annual Enrollment Period for your initial enrollment in Medicare (Part A and/or Part B).
Signing up for Medicare Part A and/or B coverage for the first time is a separate process.

What’s The Process Like For The Newly Eligible for Medicare?

If you are just getting started with Medicare, you also want to familiarize yourself with the coverage options and assess your needs before signing up for the first time.
In most cases, you’re first eligible to sign up three months before the month you turn 65. Those first three months mark the opening portion of an initial seven-month period in which you can sign up for Medicare. The entire seven-month period breaks down as follows:

  • Starts three months before the month you turn 65 years old
  • Includes your 65th birthday month
  • Concludes three months after the month you turn 65

Think of it this way. First, complete your initial enrollment. Then, if the timing of your initial sign-up warrants it, you can turn your attention to the Annual Enrollment Period to make changes for the next year.

Do You Need Medicare Yet?

One of the first items to consider once your eligible for Medicare is whether you need it. Perhaps you have coverage through a current or former employer (or a spouse’s employer). Still, once you’re eligible, you’ll want to understand your options and the implications of your healthcare decisions.
Some items to assess when determining whether to get Medicare:

  • How does my current coverage work with Medicare?
  • Will I have to pay a penalty later if I defer my enrollment in Medicare?
  • What happens to my spouse’s coverage if I enroll in Medicare but he or she is not yet eligible?

If You Do Need Medicare, Know That It’s Not an Entitlement

In some cases, an individual will be automatically enrolled in Medicare. But often, even if you’ve attained eligibility, you will still need to actively enroll in Medicare.
Once enrolled in Medicare, you have the right to cancel your coverage from other health plans because of other coverage—including Medicare.

Let SelectQuote Help With Your Medicare Planning

You can learn more about Medicare plans and the different enrollment periods by visiting our FAQs. A SelectQuote licensed sales agent is also available to answer questions to help simplify the process and select a plan that’s right for you.
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