If you currently are enrolled in Original Medicare, Part A and Part B, you can choose to enroll in Medicare Part C, more commonly known as Medicare Advantage. Medicare Advantage plans are offered by private health insurance companies to provide and coordinate Medicare Part A and Part B benefits (hospital and medical) for beneficiaries. They start as low as $0 per month and go up.
You might wonder why a beneficiary would choose to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan. A Medicare Advantage plan is required to cover everything that Original Medicare covers (except for hospice care), including emergency and urgent care. Hospice care is covered by Original Medicare, and hospice benefits continue to be covered by Original Medicare even if you have a Medicare Advantage plan. But, there can be some differences between Original Medicare and a Medicare Advantage plan. Those differences can be in how much you pay out of your own pocket when you receive health care. For example, you might have lower copayments and coinsurance or a smaller deductible. But with Medicare Advantage you are only paying for the services you are utilizing.
There can also be differences in the coverage you receive. Some Medicare Advantage plans include routine vision, routine dental, and/or wellness programs. Many plans also include prescription drug coverage; those plans are called Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plans (MAPD).
Do be aware that you would remain enrolled in Original Medicare even if you enroll into a Medicare Advantage plan, and you must continue paying your Medicare Part B premiums. However, if you enroll into a Medicare Advantage plan, you will not be allowed to obtain a Medicare Supplement insurance plan (Medigap).
Are you a high user of your medical insurance? Medicare Advantage plans might not be the best for you. Click below to find out more about Medicare Supplement plans.
You can enroll into a Medicare Advantage plan or Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan when you first become eligible for Medicare. Your Initial Coverage Election Period (ICEP), is a seven-month period that starts 3 months before the month you turn 65, includes the month you turn 65, and ends 3 months after the month you turn 65. If you are under age 65 and you receive Social Security disability, you qualify for Medicare in the 25th month after you begin receiving your Social Security benefits. If you fall into this category, you may enroll into a Medicare Advantage plan 3 months before your month of eligibility, during the month of eligibility, and 3 months after the month of eligibility. For example, if your Medicare Part A and Part B coverage begins in May, your Medicare Advantage plan ICEP is February through August.
Generally, once you enroll into a Medicare Advantage plan, you stay enrolled in the plan until the next Annual Election Period (AEP) opens. However, there are some life events that might qualify you for a Special Election Period (SEP) during other times of the year, so you can make a change to your Medicare Advantage coverage. Some examples of these life events include (but aren’t limited to):
The Annual Election Period (AEP), also called Open Enrollment Period for Medicare Advantage and Medicare prescription drug coverage, is October 15 through December 7 every year. The plan coverage you choose during the AEP begins on January 1 of the next year. It allows Medicare beneficiaries to add, change, or drop their current coverage. You can use this period to enroll into a Medicare Advantage or Medicare Prescription Drug Plan or switch plans. If you’re already enrolled into a Medicare plan, you can use this period to disenroll from your plan.
If, after enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan, you change your mind, you can switch back to Original Medicare from January 1 through March 31. If you would be losing prescription coverage as a result of the switch, you can also enroll into a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan during this time, if you wish.