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Letters to the Editor

Medicare Advantage open enrollment period ends March 31

From Greg Dill

Acting consortium administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, CMS’ Kansas City, Denver and San Francisco Regional Offices

Q: What is the new Medicare Advantage open enrollment period that runs Jan. 1 through March 31?

A: The 21st Century Cures Act of 2016 eliminated the Medicare Advantage (MA) disenrollment period (MADP) that took place from Jan. 1 through Feb. 14 of every year and, effective for 2019, replaced it with a new Medicare Advantage open enrollment period (OEP) that takes place from Jan. 1 through March 31 annually.

The new Medicare Advantage OEP allows individuals already enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan three full months after annual enrollment ends Dec. 31 to make a change only to the way they are currently receiving their Medicare if they were in a Medicare Advantage plan.

What can I do?

Medicare beneficiaries can make a one-time election to go to another (different) Medicare Advantage plan or to Original Medicare, which is fee-for-service. Individuals using the open enrollment period to make a change may also make a coordinating change to add or drop Part D prescription drug coverage only if they were in a Medicare Advantage plan and are changing to another Medicare Advantage plan or to Original Medicare.

What are the options?

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 dis-enroll from your Medicare Advantage Plan and return to original Medicare. If you choose to do so, you’ll be able to join a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan, as original Medicare does not include a prescription drug benefit.

If you enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan during your Initial Enrollment Period, you can change to another Medicare Advantage Plan (with or without drug coverage) or go back to original Medicare (with or without drug coverage) within the first three months you have Medicare.

What can’t I do?

Since the Medicare Advantage OEP is intended to allow Medicare beneficiaries who chose a Medicare Advantage plan during annual Medicare open enrollment to try a different Medicare Advantage plan or return to original Medicare because they feel as though they made the wrong choice, for their needs, then during this timeframe beneficiaries cannot:

• Switch from original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan.

• Join a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan if they’re currently in original Medicare.

• Switch from one Medicare Prescription Drug Plan to another if they’re currently in original Medicare.

Remember, the Medicare Advantage OEP ends March 31. If you miss this deadline and want to make a change to the way you receive your Medicare, most likely your next opportunity will be in the fall during the annual Medicare OEP which is Oct. 15 through Dec. 7.

If you have questions about Medicare or need help with making the best decisions for your needs you can always call 1-800-Medicare, which is 1-800-633-4227 or ask them for your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) phone number. The SHIP programs in each state are federally grant funded to assist Medicare beneficiaries, and their caregivers, with free unbiased Medicare information, and can help over the phone or in person by appointment.

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