What is Medicare Open Enrollment?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

When people have health insurance through work, they often have a yearly enrollment period. This is when people can sign up for different types of insurance, change the number of people a plan covers, or add or drop coverage of a variety of types depending on what the company offers in insurance. Similar to this is US Medicare open enrollment. This is the yearly period of time where people can enroll in or make changes to parts of their Medicare coverage depending upon eligibility and other factors.

Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone
Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone

Most times, the Medicare open enrollment plan is offered once yearly toward the end of the year. It consists of a month or more period of time where Medicare enrollees may make new choices about their coverage. Some of the things that could be changed during this period include switching to a Medicare Advantage or Medigap plan or changing terms or providers of the Medicare Prescription Drug plans, called Medicare Part D. Actually, with the Medicare Advantage there may be a longer open enrollment period, though this may vary by year and should be verified.

Just as with enrolling in a business health plan, changes at other times of the year are typically not permissible, unless a member of the family suddenly becomes eligible for Medicare due to turning 65 or becoming fully disabled. The time to make changes in almost all circumstances is when the open enrollment period is ongoing. Rarely, an exception exists that will allow people to change things at some other point in a year. More often, once a choice is made people are stuck with the results, good or bad, until the next Medicare open enrollment.

Medicare open enrollment may confuse people who are just signing up for Medicare. People can mistakenly believe they can’t enroll until one of these periods hits. Those who apply for Medicare for the first time have a different set of rules before they start to consider what occurs during the yearly period where they can make changes. Those turning 65 are usually told to apply about three months before their birthdays, and those eligible for disability could fill out paperwork at any time. Thereafter, changes tend to only be permissible in the set time period that Medicare establishes.

Those expert in this topic advise that people think carefully when they make changes during Medicare open enrollment. The US Health and Human Services Medicare pages can be very useful in this respect. These can inform people about different health insurance plans they might participate in and they can give handy comparative data regarding Prescription Drug plans.

Reviewing this material may be very useful when a person is making changes. Even when someone plans no changes initially, there may be better options and it could be worthwhile to discover this. Organizations like the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) may also have free services to offer those who want to make changes and recommendations on how to make good choices.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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