Each year between October 15 and December 7, Medicare offers an open enrollment period during which beneficiaries can make changes among several coverage options.
- Part A hospital insurance and Part B medical insurance referred to as Original Medicare
- Part C or Medicare Advantage, which replaces Original Medicare and often includes prescription drug coverage and other services not covered by Original Medicare
- Part D prescription drug coverage, which can be selected with Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage plans that do not include drug coverage
Original Medicare is administered directly by the federal government and includes standardized premiums, deductibles, copays, and coinsurance payments. Medicare Advantage plans and Part D drug plans are administered by private companies approved by Medicare; premiums, deductibles, copays, and coinsurance payments vary by plan.
During the open enrollment period, Medicare beneficiaries can do the following, with changes becoming effective on January 1:
- Change from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan, or vice versa
- Switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another Medicare Advantage plan
- Join a Medicare prescription drug plan, switch from one Medicare prescription drug plan to another, or drop Medicare prescription drug coverage
Enrollees in a Medicare Advantage plan who want to change back to Original Medicare can also do so from January 1 to February 14, with Original Medicare coverage beginning the first day of the following month. Those who make this change have until February 14 to join a Medicare prescription drug plan, with coverage beginning the first day of the month after the plan receives the enrollment form.
An additional opportunity, from December 8 to November 30 of the following year, allows Medicare beneficiaries to switch to a top-rated “5-star” Medicare Advantage plan, prescription drug plan, or Medicare Cost plan (a coverage option 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.