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By Linda Bergthold
Medicare Resource Center Contributor
Dr. Linda Bergthold has been a health care consultant and researcher for over 25 years. She worked on the Clinton Health Reform plan and was the head of the Obama health care blog team in 2008. She also writes for Huffington Post on health reform and insurance issues.
Unless you live in a remote Alaskan village, if you are eligible for Medicare, you have been inundated with brochures and mailings for months. Even though Medicare regulates what these brochures can tell you, it doesn’t mean they are easy to understand.
One thing that’s clear? An imminent deadline for beneficiaries interested in changing their Medicare coverage. (If you are satisfied with your current Medicare options, read no further. You don’t have to do a thing to keep what you have.)
December 7th is the end of one of two open enrollment periods for Medicare. A second open enrollment period starts January 1 and ends on Valentine’s Day, February 14. Each period allows you to do different things, and it’s important to read the fine print to know know your rights and your options during these periods.
The open enrollment periods offer you a variety of options for switching between Medicare Advantage plans – or dropping a plan and going back to Original Medicare. However, the current enrollment period does NOT allow you to drop Part C and go back to a supplemental or Medigap plan, unless you have moved to another location or your plan has dropped YOU.
Most people who sign up for Medicare Advantage do not realize that after they have had their plan for 12 months, they are locked in to these plans and can not easily go back to Original Medicare with a Medigap policy. Again, if you disenroll from your Medicare Advantage plan, federal law does not usually give you the right to buy a Medigap plan.
This does vary somewhat by state, so check your state’s regulations. Check with your SHIP (State Health Insurance Assistance Program) to find out if and when you can enroll in a Medigap plan in your state.
The current enrollment period also allows you to change your prescription drug plan, Part D. During this period, you can join a drug plan, change to another drug plan, or drop your drug plan entirely. But you can only do these things before December 7th.
In the second open enrollment period, January 1-February 14, you can join another drug plan only if you have dropped out of Medicare Advantage and gone back to Original Medicare. You can not switch drug plans in the second enrollment period.
If you are interested in changing your drug plan, you still have time to do so online before the December 7th deadline. Medicare.gov offers a very helpful interactive site where you can enter the drugs you use or think you might use, and it gives you a list of all the plans in your area that cover those drugs and the pharmacies where these plans are offered.
For more information about changing plans, it is important to carefully read pages 7 and 8 of this Medicare document.
If you want more information about what to do if your current Medicare Advantage plan “dumps you” and leaves your county, check out my column at Huffington Post.
November 30, 2011
Editor's Note: Opinions expressed on these pages are those of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the management or ownership of healthinsurance.org.
If you wish to leave your Medicare Advantage plan and sign up for Original Medicare, you can do so during the Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period. The disenrollment period runs from Jan. 1 to Feb. 14 each year. As Original Medicare does not cover prescription drugs, you also have until Feb. 14 to join a prescription drug plan.
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