When to Apply for Medicare Advantage Plans?

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Medicare Advantage Plans, sometimes called Part C or MA plans, are developed individually by health insurance companies and must be approved by Medicare. They cover all services Medicare covers, and usually offer additional coverage, benefits or features not found in Original Medicare. Unlike Medicare and Medigap plans, you can only enroll in MA plans at certain times.

When You Join Medicare

You can enroll in any MA plan during the six-month period that starts the month you become eligible for Medicare – either the month you turn 65, or the 25th month you receive Social Security Disability benefits, whichever is earlier. Just as with Medicare Supplements, you must be enrolled in Parts A and B to be eligible to join a MA plan. The enrollment is usually automatic, and there’s no waiting period to join any type of Medicare plan afterward. Medicare's interactive applications help you find plans in your area, and many plans allow you to enroll online.

Annual Election Period

From October 15 to December 7 each year, you can change from Original Medicare to an MA plan, from one MA plan to another, or change from an MA plan back to Original Medicare. If you switch to Original Medicare or to an MA plan that does not offer drug coverage, you can also join Part D, the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan.

Disenrollment Period

You can drop an MA plan and switch to Original Medicare From January 1 until February 14 each year., if you do so, you can secure prescription coverage with a Part D plan. These are the only options you can exercise during the MA Disenrollment Period.

Special Circumstances

If an insurance company discontinues an MA plan, affected policyholders are notified prior to the effective date. Discontinuance dates generally are timed to open enrollment. If policyholders don’t take any action, they’re automatically returned to Original Medicare. This also applies to people who move outside their MA plan’s service area. These and other special circumstances generally trigger a Special Enrollment Period, or SEP.

Other Considerations

Once you join an MA plan, you remain a Medicare participant with Part A and Part B coverage, but those services are paid for by the MA plan, and not Medicare. If you have coverage from an employer or union, talk to your benefits administrator before signing any papers. Joining an MA plan generally disenrolls you from such coverage, and those plans often make it difficult or impossible to regain coverage under any circumstances.

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