People who are eligible for Medicare can make changes to their health and drug plans during the annual Open Enrollment Period.
The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment period gives Medicare Advantage plan-holders an additional opportunity to make limited changes.
For the more than 64 million Americans1 enrolled in Medicare, one of the first signs of fall each year is the arrival of the Medicare & You handbook. This valuable guide is a signal that two very important annual enrollment periods are just around the corner: Medicare's Open Enrollment Period and the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment.
This NCOA guide explains the actions you can take during each enrollment period. Knowing more about these two distinct enrollment opportunities can help you make informed decisions about your health and drug coverage.
Medicare's Open Enrollment Period vs the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment: What’s the difference?
At a glance, there are two main ways these two enrollment periods differ:
- They are held at different times of the year. Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period is from October 15 to December 7. And the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment is from January 1 to March 31.
- They both offer different opportunities for adjusting your coverage. During Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period (or OEP), Medicare beneficiaries can make a wider range of changes. The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment period gives people with Medicare Advantage plans one additional chance to change Medicare Advantage plans or switch to Original Medicare.
How does Medicare's annual Open Enrollment Period work?
When’s the Medicare Open Enrollment Period? October 15 – December 7
What can I do during Medicare Open Enrollment? As a Medicare beneficiary, you can join, switch, or drop a health and/or drug plan. These are actions you can take:2
- Change from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan.
- Change from a Medicare Advantage Plan to Original Medicare.
- Switch from one Medicare Advantage Plan to another.
- Join a Medicare drug plan.
- Switch from one Medicare drug plan to another Medicare drug plan.
- Drop your Medicare drug coverage completely.
- Switch from a Medicare Advantage Plan that doesn't offer drug coverage to a Medicare Advantage Plan that offers drug coverage.
- Switch from a Medicare Advantage Plan that offers drug coverage to a Medicare Advantage Plan that doesn't offer drug coverage.
Do I have to change my coverage? No. If your current plans meet your medical and budgetary needs, you’re all set. But the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recommends all Medicare beneficiaries assess their coverage annually.
“People in a Medicare health or prescription drug plan should always review the materials their plans send them, like the ‘Evidence of Coverage’ (EOC) and ‘Annual Notice of Change’ (ANOC),” the agency advises.
If their plans are changing, they should make sure their plans will still meet their needs for the following year.”
When do open enrollment changes become effective? January 1, as long as you meet the December 7 deadline.
How does the annual Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period work?
When is the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period? January 1 to March 31.
Who is this for? It’s for people who are already enrolled in a private Medicare Advantage plan (with or without drug coverage).
What can I do during the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment? This Medicare Advantage enrollment period gives Medicare Advantage (MA) plan-holders an additional opportunity to make changes. You can only change plans once during this enrollment period. Here are the actions you can take:2
- If you’re in a Medicare Advantage Plan (with or without drug coverage), you can switch to another Medicare Advantage Plan (with or without drug coverage).
- You can drop your Medicare Advantage Plan and return to Original Medicare. You'll also be able to join a separate Medicare drug plan.
Are those my only options during the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment? Yes. And to clarify, CMS notes that you can’t do the following:2
- Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan.
- Join a Medicare drug plan if you're in Original Medicare.
- Switch from one Medicare drug plan to another if you're in Original Medicare.
When do changes become effective? Your coverage will start the first day of the month after you apply to join the plan.
Ways you can find more answers to your Medicare questions
NCOA has more information and experts you can talk to about Medicare enrollment. You’ll also find Medicare resources, information, and tools. Take our questionnaire and get free professional counseling by a licensed benefits advisor from one of our trusted partners that meet NCOA's Standards of Excellence.
CMS recommends you consider these things when choosing a Medicare plan. You can also explore coverage options and more by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) or visiting Medicare.gov. Or you can even talk or live chat with someone 24/7, except for on some federal holidays.
1. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. CMS Fast Facts (PDF Download). August 2022. Found on the internet at https://data.cms.gov/fact-sheet/cms-fast-facts
2. Medicare.gov. Joining a Health or Drug Plan. Found on the internet at https://www.medicare.gov/sign-up-change-plans/joining-a-health-or-drug-plan