Medicare enrollment can feel overwhelming and time-consuming to the newly eligible or for those looking to renew or change their Medicare plans. However, there are ways to make sure that you save time during your Medicare enrollment process and avoid any gaps in your coverage. We consulted with experts about three ways to save time during Medicare enrollment.
Know your deadlines.
Medicare has three time periods that allow you to sign up for, switch between, or disenroll from Medicare plans. The first is your Initial Enrollment Period.
“The first enrollment deadline the senior audience wants to pay attention to is when they turn 65—because that’s when they get Medicare," Cody Mulhall, Senior Sales Manager at ClearMatch Medicare, tells WebMD Connect to Care. "The government generally tries to find consumers three months prior to their 65th birthday to do their homework and sign up for a Medicare plan to have coverage starting the month of their birthday.”
There are also two time periods every year during which you can switch your plan for the year ahead. These windows of time are the Medicare Open Enrollment Period and the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period.
- Medicare Open Enrollment: From October 15 until December 7, you can enroll in Medicare, switch your plans, or drop a plan. If you enroll by December 7, your coverage will begin on January 1.
- Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment: From January 1 until March 31, Medicare Advantage plan beneficiaries can choose a different Medicare Advantage plan or switch to Original Medicare.
Prioritize your needs.
The Social Security Administration reports that, if you're already receiving Social Security benefits, you’ll be automatically enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B, also known as Original Medicare. This auto-enrollment will go into effect on the first day of the month you turn 65. However, Original Medicare isn't your only coverage option.
“When someone first turns 65, they hit that fork in the road between the two main components of the medical system, and they can do a Medicare Supplement or the Medicare Advantage route,” Mulhall says.
Medicare Supplement, also known as Medigap, is a private policy that Original Medicare beneficiaries can purchase through the Medicare system in order to bridge gaps in their Parts A and B coverage. Medicare Advantage, on the other hand, offers private insurance plans through the Medicare system as a comprehensive alternative to Original Medicare.
It’s important to do your research, as not all plans have the same coverage and benefits.
“The one big misconception is, sometimes, we will encounter folks in the senior audience that think that because [healthcare providers] take Medicare, they’ll take any insurance plan. That is not true. There are hundreds of plans in the Medicare umbrella in anyone’s given county in the United States, and a doctor might take one and not the other,” Mulhall says.
So, what should you consider in order to get the most benefits out of your plan? Lifestyle choices such as frequent travels will factor into what network you want to join, as well as having a preference for certain doctors or needing specific drugs covered by your plan. “Seniors may think it’s a one-size-fits-all healthcare system, and it’s not,” Mulhall says.
Stay up to date.
Your Medicare plan may change from one year to the next, so it’s important to review your plan during open enrollment.
“Some of these plans are on a calendar year contract. Typically, they change every year. Copays go up and down, so it’s always a best practice for a senior to see what is changing in their plan and if there is anything else out there that’s better for their needs and budget,” Mulhall says.
Get started now.
Interested in learning more about Medicare, Medigap, and Medicare Advantage plans? WebMD Connect to Care Advisors may be able to help.