What You Can Do During the AEP
The Annual Open Enrollment Period (AEP) is a great opportunity for Medicare beneficiaries to alter their insurance coverage. This generally includes switching:
- From Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage (and vice versa): Original Medicare (Parts A and B) is the base, first plan you sign up for when you get Medicare for the first time. But, if you choose, you can instead get a Medicare Advantage plan through a private insurer for some additional benefits and ways of reducing your out-of-pocket costs. During the AEP, then, you can either enroll in an Advantage plan apart from Original Medicare or disenroll in Advantage and go back to Original Medicare.
- From one Medicare Advantage plan/provider to another: Because Advantage plans are offered through private insurers, plans will look different across the board from different providers. You can, then, switch between two different plans, regardless of your reasoning for doing so.
- From a Medicare Advantage plan/provider without prescription drug coverage to an Advantage plan with Prescription Drug(and vice versa): One of the benefits of Medicare Advantage is that some providers include prescription drug coverage. But, not everyone does. So, if you have an Advantage plan without this coverage, you can switch to a plan that does. Or, on the other hand, say you have an Advantage plan that has prescription drug coverage, but it’s costing you too much money. In that or any other case, you can also switch from an Advantage plan with that coverage to one without it.
- From one Prescription Drug plan/provider to another: As is the case with Medicare Advantage, Part D (prescription drug plan) is also provided through private companies, meaning that prices and benefits will vary between carriers. So, like Advantage, you can switch plans/providers.
How the AEP Compares to Other Enrollment Periods
The AEP, however, is not the only enrollment period. Of course, you will have opportunities to enroll in Medicare for the first time. The best time to do this is during your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP), which takes place during your 65th birthday.
You can also do so during the General Enrollment Period (GEP), which takes place from January 1st through March 31st. However, you may face late fees if you use this period, but it is still a good option if you are not yet enrolled.
The best time to use the AEP, then, is when you’ve already used the IEP or GEP, and simply want to change what you currently have.
Should You Use the AEP?
Clearly, you can do a lot during the AEP. The question, then, is should you? You do not have to use the AEP, but you should if you can find better coverage elsewhere. The best way to do this is to “shop around” and compare available plans in your area, seeing how they “stack up” against your current coverage, looking at both its costs and benefits.