The Medicare Annual Enrollment period runs from October 15th through December 7th of every year. This is the one time during the year when all Medicare enrollees can make changes to both their health plans and prescription drug coverage. Applications for a change in coverage must be received by December 7th and these changes will go into effect on January 1st. During this period, enrollees can:
Making changes to your Medicare plan is not mandatory and coverage will renew from year to year automatically unless you disenroll. The federal government’s relatively new rating system for Medicare plans allows plans with a five-star rating to add beneficiaries at any time during the year. Those who want to switch to a five-star plan are not required to wait for the open enrollment period to do so.
There are also “special enrollment periods” outside of the annual enrollment period for people whose circumstances qualify them. For example, a Medicare beneficiary who moved to a new region where her Medicare Advantage plan does not have covered healthcare providers would be eligible for a special enrollment period.
People who are turning 65 also have an “initial enrollment period.” People turning 65 are entering the Medicare system and Medicare allows them more time to make insurance coverage decisions. With respect to Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans, a person turning 65 can enroll any time beginning with the third month before the month of his or her birthday to the third month after the month of his or her birthday. This provides new Medicare beneficiaries a 7-month window to enroll.
Medicare plans and costs can change annually. In 2013, seven of the top 10 available Medicare plans raised drug costs by over 10% while the number of plans that offer discounts through preferred pharmacies increased. Tin some cases, the costs of monthly premiums may not increase noticeably from year to year but this does not mean that co-pay prices will stay the same. An annual review of your Medicare plans is the ideal way to minimize premium and out-of-pocket costs as well as personalize your health coverage.