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    Health Care Reform:

    Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

    Medicare Eligibility and Enrollment

    Medicare Enrollment Periods continued...

    Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C). You may join an advantage plan during the 7-month period when you first become eligible for Medicare. These plans may have more benefits and more coverage. You may join, switch, or drop a Part C plan between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7. You may switch to Original Medicare (Parts A and B) and sign up for a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan between Jan. 1 and Feb. 14.

    Medicare Prescription Drug Plans (Part D). You may join, switch, or drop a drug plan between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7. There is an exception: You may join a 5-star Medicare Prescription Drug Plan, as rated by Medicare, any time. But you can only do this once. Go to www.medicare.gov/find-a-plan to see ratings.

    What to know about Medicare penalties. If you don't sign up during your initial enrollment period for some programs -- like Medicare Parts A and B and Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage (Part D) -- you might pay a higher monthly fee when you sign up later.

    There are some exceptions. If you or your spouse have drug coverage now through an employer-based health plan that is as good as Medicare's or better, you shouldn't be charged a late penalty as long as you sign up within the deadlines. After insurance from an employer ends, you must sign up for Part B within 8 months and for Part D within 63 days. Keep in mind that an insurance policy from an employer with fewer than 20 employees works differently with Medicare. If you work for a company of that size, you should sign up for Medicare when you are first eligible. You will not incur penalties if you don't, but without Medicare Part B coverage, you could be without coverage for outpatient services.

    Sign up for Medigap early. Medigap is private insurance you buy to help pay for additional Medicare costs. If you need a Medigap plan, you should buy it within 6 months of getting Medicare Part B. During that period, you're guaranteed to get any Medigap plan you want. But if you try to buy it after those 6 months, the insurance company can charge you a higher price or turn you down altogether.

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