Medicare is full of enrollment periods. In 2020, there are about six different enrollment periods. Each period has a designated purpose, so you may only experience some of the enrollment periods in your Medicare journey. For example, if you have Original Medicare and a Medigap plan, you may never need to use the Medicare Open Enrollment Period.
Unlike Medigap plans, Medicare Advantage plans are locked in from the time you enroll until the end of the calendar year. So, if you start your Medicare Advantage plan on January 1st, you will be locked in until December 31st. Because Medicare Advantage plans are locked in for the year, there are designated enrollment periods for which you can make changes to your plan, such as the Medicare Open Enrollment Period.
In Texas alone, there are nearly 1.5 million Medicare Advantage beneficiaries (35.7% of Medicare beneficiaries), so this enrollment period is quite popular in the Lone Star State. Also, there are nearly 150 Medicare Advantage plans to choose from in Texas. Therefore, have the chance to try a few different plan options could be nice.
What is the Medicare Open Enrollment Period?
The Medicare Open Enrollment Period was around before the Affordable Care Act was signed, but shortly after the ACA began, the Medicare Open Enrollment Period was replaced with the Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period. 2019 was the first year from the Medicare Open Enrollment Period to return, and beneficiaries all around the country are thankful.
The Medicare Open Enrollment Period goes from January 1st until March 31st each year. During this period, people who are already enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans have the option to either drop their Medicare Advantage plan or switch to a different one. Changes made during this period become effective on the first of the months after enrollment.
The difference between the OEP and GEP
Occasionally, you’ll have two enrollment periods overlap with one another. For instance, every year, the Medicare Open Enrollment Period (OEP) and the General Enrollment Period overlap. They occur during the same dates each year but are dedicated to completely different types of enrollment.
The General Enrollment Period (GEP) is your chance to enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B if you missed your Initial Enrollment Period. Therefore, the only people who use the GEP are people who aren’t already on Medicare, whereas the OEP is for people who already have Part A, Part B, and a Medicare Advantage plan.
What the Medicare Open Enrollment Period is NOT for
As we said before, Medicare Advantage plans are locked in for the calendar year. However, Medigap plans are not. You can apply for and drop a Medigap plan at any time throughout the year. But, if you aren’t within your one-time six-month Medigap open enrollment window that starts the day your Part B is effective, then you will likely have to answer health questions.
Therefore, if you drop your Medicare Advantage plan during the Medicare Open Enrollment Period, and apply for a Medigap plan, you will likely have to answer health questions that could cost you your coverage. So, if you plan to apply for a Medigap plan during the Medicare Open Enrollment Period, don’t drop your Medicare Advantage plan until you have been approved for your new Medigap plan.
Examples of why you might need the Medicare Open Enrollment Period
Another Medicare enrollment period that happens annual is the Annual Election Period. Anyone who has Medicare Part A and Part B are able to use this enrollment period. During this period, you have the option of:
- Going from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage by enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan
- Going from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare by dropping a Medicare Advantage plan
- Switching Medicare Advantage plans
- Switching Part D plans
- Adding a Part D plan to your Original Medicare
- Dropping a Part D plan
As you can tell, this enrollment period allows you do make almost any change to your coverage. However, like the Open Enrollment Period, it isn’t a free-pass to enroll in a Medigap plan without having to answer health questions.
The Annual Election Period runs from October 15th through December 7th each year, so right before the Open Enrollment Period starts. You might be wondering why you need the Open Enrollment Period if the Annual Election Period allows you to do the same thing and more.
Well, if you miss the Annual Election Period, the Open Enrollment Period may be a second chance to make the changes you need to make. You may also need the Open Enrollment Period to change Medicare Advantage plans for a second time. For instance, if you enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan during the Annual Election Period, use it in January, and find out that the coverage wasn’t what you expected, the Open Enrollment Period allows you to have a second chance at finding the coverage that fits your needs.
So, as you can see, the Open Enrollment Period can be very beneficial to Medicare Advantage beneficiaries. Without it, you would be locked in a plan you don’t necessarily like until the following year.