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How and when you can change your coverage

Waiting for Medicare's eight-week open enrollment period? There are opportunities to change your coverage right now.

Open enrollment for Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D coverage is limited to roughly an eight-week period (October 15 through December 7) each year, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to change your coverage during the other 44 weeks of the year. Here’s a quick rundown of your options:

Making changes to Medigap

  • You can apply for a Medicare Supplemental Insurance (Medigap) plan at any time during the year. If you’re within the six-month open enrollment window that begins when you turn 65, the coverage is guaranteed issue. That is also the case if you’re in a special enrollment period triggered by a qualifying event.
  • You can still apply for a Medigap plan outside of open/special enrollment periods – though in most states, carriers will use medical underwriting to determine whether to accept your application, and how much to charge you.

If you didn’t enroll when first eligible

  • If you didn’t sign up for Medicare A and B when you were first eligible, you can enroll between January 1 and March 31, with coverage effective July 1, but you may be subject to a late enrollment penalty. (For Medicare Part B, the penalty is an additional 10 percent of the premium for each 12-month period that you were eligible but not enrolled, and did not have other creditable coverage in place. Medicare Part A is premium-free for most enrollees, based on work history.)

Changing or leaving Medicare Advantage plans

  • In addition to the regular annual open enrollment period, beneficiaries who have Medicare Advantage also have a chance to change their coverage during the first three months of the year. Starting in 2019, there will be a new Medicare Advantage open enrollment period, from January 1 to March 31 (it’s not really new, since this is the system that was used prior to 2011, but the ACA switched to a Medicare Advantage disenrollment period, during which Advantage enrollees could drop their Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare; that system is being replaced by the new open enrollment period)

    The new Medicare Advantage open enrollment period, which was authorized by the 21st Century Cures Act (see Section 17005), will allow a person enrolled in Medicare Advantage to switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan. They’ll also have the option to switch back to Original Medicare and pick a Part D prescription plan at the same time (as was the case under the previously used disenrollment period).

    The new enrollment period means that if you sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan during the annual election period (October 15 to December 7) and then decide you’re not happy with it once it takes effect, you have the option to switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan (or back to Original Medicare) at any time during the first three months of the new year. But you can only exercise this right one time per year (as opposed to the annual election period, when there’s no limit on how many times you can change your mind).

  • From December 8 through November 30 each year – you can actually switch to a new Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D plan – if you enroll in a plan in your area that has earned the government’s five-star (excellent) rating. (A list of plans that received the five-star rating for 2018 is available here; more data from CSM is available here).

For a thorough overview of the changes you can make to your coverage, read How do I change my Medicare coverage?

Knowing your coverage options is critical

How well do you understand Medicare’s coverage options? Take our new Medicare Smarts Quiz to see if you are ready to shop for new coverage.

Ready or not, you can always learn more right here. The articles on this site are authored by a team of veteran healthcare writers who know the health insurance industry, understand the political battles over healthcare – and, most importantly, who know the needs of consumers.

In these pages, you can tap into an extensive collection of resources, including:

We hope you’ll find the answers to all your burning questions. If you can’t, please don’t hesitate to send us your questions.