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A Guide to Changing Medicare Plans

Learn how to change Medicare plans and make the most of your coverage

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It's time for Medicare Annual Enrollment: Make sure you're getting the most coverage for your buck in 2023.

If you are like many seniors, you may automatically qualify for Original Medicare around the time of your 65th birthday. Assuming you meet the necessary requirements, you may have already been enrolled in Medicare, which would give you access to government-sponsored Part A and Part B coverage.

But what happens if you want to change your Medicare plan? Perhaps you want to get additional Medicare benefits through a private insurer (a Medicare Advantage plan), add a supplemental plan to cover some of your out-of-pocket expenses (Medigap), or add prescription drug coverage (a stand-alone Part D plan). Regardless of your reasons for wanting a new or adjusted plan, you will need to know how and when you can make any changes. In today's guide, we will cover all of the most important information you need when changing Medicare plans.

Table of Contents

When Can I Change My Medicare Advantage Plan?

There are three distinct periods during which you can change from one Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan to another. The first is your Initial Enrollment Period. This is the period when you are first eligible to enroll in Medicare. It begins three months before the month you turn 65 and extends to the following three months (seven months in total). During this time, you may enroll in a new Medicare Advantage plan. If you decide that there is a better option out there, you can switch to a different Part C plan, as long as the Initial Enrollment Period has not ended.

Did You Know? Many Medicare Advantage plans include prescription drug coverage, which can save you the cost and hassle of paying for a stand-alone Medicare Part D plan!

You may also be able to switch between Medicare Advantage plans during the annual Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period, which begins on Jan. 1 and ends on March 31 each year. Additionally, you may make changes to your Medicare Advantage plan during the annual Open Enrollment Period, which happens every year between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7.

These are the standard periods for switching between Medicare Advantage plans. It is important to note that these periods all pertain to people who want to change between two distinct Medicare Advantage plans. If you want to switch from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage, you can only do so during your Initial Enrollment Period or the annual Open Enrollment Period (not the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period). The only prerequisites for taking advantage of any of these periods is that you have an existing Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage plan.

When Can I Change My Medicare Part D Plan?

You can change your Medicare Part D plan during the annual Open Enrollment Period (Oct. 15 to Dec. 7). You can add, switch, or drop a Medicare prescription drug plan at any time during this period as many times as you like.

Did You Know? You can find the right Part D plan for you by checking out SeniorLiving.org’s picks for the best Medicare Part D carriers!

If you are adding a new plan or switching to a different plan, the new coverage will begin on Jan. 1 of the following year (approximately three weeks after the enrollment window closes). If you miss the Dec. 7th deadline, you may have to wait until the same time next year to make any changes to your prescription drug coverage.

When Can I Change My Medicare Supplement Plan?

Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plans can be a little more complicated, as you are not granted the right to switch plans under federal law.1 However, you still have options to change or drop your Medicare Supplement plan if you qualify. The standard Medigap Open Enrollment Period begins when you enroll in Medicare Part B and lasts for six months. During this time, you can enroll in Medigap and switch between different Medigap plans. You also get a free 30-day “look back” period to evaluate your new Medigap plan. This means that you have 30 days to decide if you like your new Medigap plan or want to switch to a new one.

FYI: Even if you decide to drop or switch plans during the look back period, you will need to pay the first month's premium for each new Medigap plan.

You may be able to switch Medigap plans under special circumstances or through your Guaranteed Issue rights. For example, if you move out of state, you can check with your Medigap carrier to see if you are eligible for different plans in the new location. You can also exercise your Guaranteed Issue rights in various scenarios. For instance, if your Medigap carrier goes out of business or you otherwise lose your Medigap coverage through no fault of your own, you can enroll in a different plan. You can learn more about Medigap’s special circumstances and your Guaranteed Issue rights on Medicare.gov.

Changing Plans During the Medicare Special Enrollment Period for Qualifying Life Events

Certain unique events or circumstances may qualify you for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) to add, drop, or switch plans. For example, say that you had an Original Medicare plan combined with Medigap and you dropped Medigap to enroll in Medicare Advantage (you cannot use Medicare Advantage and Medigap together). You'll have a 12-month SEP that functions as a “trial period” for your new plan. During this period, you can drop your Medicare Advantage if you don't like it and return to Original Medicare. Other common situations that may qualify you for an SEP include moving to a new location that has access to new plans or having a Medicare Advantage plan that drops your health care provider.

FYI: The rules and special circumstances required to qualify for SEP can be complex, which is why many seniors wait for the next Open Enrollment Period to make changes to their Medicare plan.

Special Enrollment Periods typically last for two months following the qualifying life event. In this guide, we have only examined a few examples of special circumstances that can trigger an SEP. For a comprehensive list of qualifying special circumstances, be sure to review Medicare’s guide to special enrollment periods.

How to Switch Back to Original Medicare

You can switch back to Original Medicare from a Medicare Advantage plan at any time in the first year of your Part C plan. If the first year of coverage has already passed, you can also disenroll from your current Medicare Advantage plan and enroll in Original Medicare during the annual Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment period (Jan. 1 through March 31).

Keep in mind that you can only make one change from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare during each annual period, so make sure you are choosing the best coverage for you. If you decide that you want to reverse the decision, you may need to wait until the next available enrollment period. To get the process started, you can visit your local Social Security office, contact your Medicare Advantage carrier, or call 1-800-MEDICARE. Then, you will be guided through the necessary steps to end your current coverage and begin a new plan.

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Senior Living is an online lead generator that helps connect consumers with licensed insurance agents. MEDICARE ADVANTAGE AND PDP: This site provides referrals to representatives of Medicare Advantage organizations and stand-alone PDP prescription drug plans that have Medicare contracts. Enrollment in any plan depends on contract renewal. The plans represented do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex. To learn more about a plan's nondiscrimination policy, please contact the plan. For a complete list of available plans please contact 1-800-MEDICARE (TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048), 24 hours a day/7 days a week or consult www.medicare.gov. Generally, Medicare is available for people age 65 or older, younger people with disabilities and people with End Stage Renal Disease. You must have both Part A and B to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan. Members may enroll in the plan only during specific times of the year. Some Medicare plans are not available in all areas, and costs, coverage, and benefits vary by location. MEDICARE SUPPLEMENT: Medicare Supplement insurance is available to those age 65 and older enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B and, in some states, to those under age 65 eligible for Medicare due to disability or End-Stage Renal disease. Medicare Supplement insurance plans are not connected with or endorsed by the U.S. government or the federal Medicare program. PRIVATE SITE: This is a non-government website, and is not endorsed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), or any other government agency. The purpose of this communication is to connect individuals with a licensed insurance agent. Contact will be made by an insurance agent or a phone representative who can connect you to a licensed insurance agent. AGREEMENT TO TERMS: If you use submit your information through this website, you agree to the Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions linked below, and to be contacted by a licensed insurance agent or a phone representative who can help connect you to a licensed insurance agent in your area to help review your coverage and options. NOT ALL PLANS OFFERED: The licensed agent to whom you are connected may not offer all plans in your area. Any information provided is limited to those plans the licensed agent does offer in your area. To explore all plans, please contact Medicare.gov or 1-800-MEDICARE.

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Written By

Taylor Shuman

Senior Tech Expert & Editor

For over five years, Taylor has been writing, editing, and researching products and services covering topics such as senior care and technology, Internet and the digital divide, TV, and entertainment, and education. Her research on media consumption and consumer behavior has been… Learn More About Taylor Shuman

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