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Medicare 2016 Open Enrollment Guide

Beth Orenstein | September 17, 2015

You have seven weeks to make some decisions about your Medicare and Medicare Supplement plans.

The annual Open Enrollment period for Medicare begins Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 7. Open Enrollment has been moved up a month and ends earlier in December than in the past so that all the changes beneficiaries make can be in place by Jan. 1.

Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage

You have a choice of Original Medicare or a Medicare Advantage plan.

Original Medicare or traditional Medicare covers hospital services under Part A and doctor and outpatient services under Part B. When you turn 65, you are automatically enrolled in Part A. You must enroll yourself in Part B.

If you choose Original Medicare, you will want to buy a Medicare Supplement plan to cover those expenses that aren't covered, such as co-pays, deductibles and co-insurance.

A Medicare Advantage plan combines hospital, doctor and outpatient services in one plan.

What you can do

Here's what you are able to do during the annual Open Enrollment period:

  • You can switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan.
  • You can switch from a Medicare Advantage plan to Original Medicare. (There’s also a Medicare Advantage disenrollment period that runs from January 1 to February 14.)
  • You can choose a Part D plan for drug coverage. This is important if you have Original Medicare. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan it may include drug coverage--some Medicare Advantage plans do and some have it as an option. Even though you may not need drug coverage now, you should consider buying it. If you wait, you will pay a penalty and your premiums will be higher.

You may be able to make changes in your Medicare and Medicare Supplement and drug plans at other times of the year, but it probably won't be as easy. In most cases, you will need a special exception, which may be granted if you were misled by the sales agent or you move to an area where your plan doesn't provide coverage.

Review your coverage

You should look at your health insurance plans and decide whether you have the coverage you want for the upcoming year. It's hard to know what's going to happen, but you should look at your health insurance plans to be sure you have the most appropriate coverage at this time in your life.

You don't have to switch plans during the Open Enrollment period, and, if you don't do anything, nothing will change.

Remember, whatever changes you do make during the Open Enrollment period won't take effect until Jan. 1.

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