When Medicare was first signed into law in 1965, it consisted of Part A hospital insurance and Part B medical insurance, now referred to as Original Medicare. These programs are administered directly by the federal government and have standardized services, premiums, and deductibles.
Two other types of coverage have since been added — both offered by Medicare-approved private insurance companies — with varying costs and benefits. Part C, or Medicare Advantage, replaces Original Medicare and often includes prescription drug coverage and other benefits. Part D Prescription Drug Coverage can be selected with Original Medicare or with Medicare Advantage Plans that do not offer drug benefits.
With all these options, it’s not unusual for beneficiaries to switch plans and coverage, either because of changing circumstances or because another plan better suits their current needs. Fortunately, there are opportunities to do so during several enrollment periods throughout the year.
Medicare Open Enrollment Period: October 15 to December 7. During this period, changes can be made by participants in Original Medicare, Medicare Advantage, and Medicare Prescription Drug Plans. Any changes made during this period become effective on January 1.
Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period: January 1 to February 14. Participants in Medicare Advantage Plans can also switch to Original Medicare during this period, with Original Medicare coverage beginning the first day of the following month. Those who make this change have until February 14 to enroll in a Part D Prescription Drug Plan, with coverage beginning the first day of the month after the plan receives the enrollment form.
Five-Star Special Enrollment Period: December 8 to November 30 of the following year. An additional opportunity allows Medicare beneficiaries to switch to a top-rated “5-star” Medicare Advantage Plan, Prescription Drug Plan, or Medicare Cost Plan (alternate coverage available in certain areas of the country). Medicare rates these plans every year, and a 5-star rating is considered excellent. You can use the star ratings to compare plans based on quality and performance.
For more on Medicare enrollment, visit medicare.gov/sign-up-change-plans.
Source: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, 2015
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