When Can I Switch Medicare Advantage Plans?

If you’re looking to switch your Medicare Advantage plan, you might be wondering, “When can I switch Medicare Advantage plans?”

Key times to switch Medicare Advantage plans are during the Annual Election Period from October 15 to December 7, the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period from January 1 to March 31, or during a Special Enrollment Period triggered by certain life events.

This article will provide the details you need to know about each period, without spoiling the in-depth guidance to come on navigating this important decision.


Key Takeaways

  • Medicare Advantage Plans can be switched during specific enrollment periods – during the Initial Enrollment Period (around the age of 65), the Annual Election Period (from October 15 to December 7 annually), or Special Enrollment Periods triggered by qualifying life events.


  • The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period from January 1st to March 31st allows existing Medicare Advantage enrollees to switch to another MA plan or to Original Medicare, and there’s a specific MA OEP for new beneficiaries.


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Understanding Medicare Advantage Enrollment Periods


When Can I Switch Medicare Advantage Plans?, Understanding Medicare Advantage Enrollment Periods


Designated windows of time, known as Medicare Advantage enrollment periods, allow for changes to Medicare coverage. The Initial, Annual, and Special Enrollment Periods govern the times when Medicare Advantage plans can be switched.

These periods form the backbone of the Medicare system, providing ample opportunities to adapt coverage in line with evolving health needs.

While you’re permitted to modify your Medicare Advantage plans only during these designated enrollment periods, there are certain exceptional situations where you might be able to change outside these periods.

The crux is to promptly switch Medicare plans when necessary to maintain continuous health coverage without any interruptions.


Initial Enrollment Period

The Initial Enrollment Period is your first encounter with Medicare Advantage. This seven-month window opens three months before the month you turn 65 and closes three months after your birthday month.

It’s during this time that you first become eligible for Medicare, allowing you to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan.

Before stepping into the world of Medicare Advantage, you must first enroll in Medicare Parts A and B. This enrollment, coupled with the timely fulfillment of premium payments for original Medicare and any imposed by the Medicare Advantage plan, lays the foundation for your initial Medicare coverage.


Annual Election Period

Once past the Initial Enrollment Period, your next opportunity to modify your Medicare coverage comes during the Annual Election Period (AEP). The AEP, running annually from October 15 to December 7, permits:

  • Switching between different Medicare Advantage plans


  • Transitioning from a Medicare Advantage plan to Original Medicare


  • Changing to a different Part D prescription drug plan.


However, it’s important to remember that typically you can’t make another change to your Medicare plans until the next AEP if you’ve already made a switch during the current AEP. Hence, making well-informed decisions during this period is critical for aligning your coverage with your needs for the upcoming year.


Special Enrollment Period

Recognizing life’s unpredictability, Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs) have been established within the Medicare system. SEPs permit modifications to your Medicare plan outside regular enrollment periods due to specific life events or changes in coverage.

These life events triggering an SEP can range from:

  • getting married


  • losing employer coverage


  • moving to a new address


No matter the triggering event, acting promptly once an SEP is initiated is fundamental to seize the opportunity to adjust your Medicare coverage to new circumstances.

Navigating the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period


When Can I Switch Medicare Advantage Plans?, Navigating the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period


In addition to the Initial, Annual, and Special Enrollment Periods, there’s another window of opportunity to modify your Medicare Advantage plan – the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (MA OEP).

Spanning from January 1st to March 31st annually, this period allows individuals with a Medicare Advantage plan to switch plans during the Medicare Open Enrollment Period. There is also an individualized MA OEP specifically for new Medicare beneficiaries who enroll in an MA plan within the first three months of obtaining Medicare.

During the MA OEP, you can switch to another MA plan in 2025 or transition from Medicare Advantage to original Medicare and enroll in a Part D plan. The coverage becomes effective on the first day of the month following the switch.

While navigating this period, it’s important to understand the potential changes in coverage and benefits, assess the various available plans, and evaluate the options for prescription drug coverage.


Switching Between Medicare Advantage Plans

Switching between Medicare Advantage Plans during the Open Enrollment Period is as simple as contacting us prior to the MA OEP at 1-833-641-4938.

Before executing the switch, consider the following:

  • Potential increases in medical care costs resulting from varying copayments and out-of-pocket expenses


  • Assess the network coverage of the new plan to ensure that it includes your necessary providers


  • Be mindful of the potential risk of unexpected high costs in the event of illness

Our licensed insurance agents can help you through the entire process.


Returning to Original Medicare

The MA OEP also provides an opportunity to return to Original Medicare.

This process involves calling 1-833-641-4938. Once the change is made, your coverage will start on the first day of the month after the switch.

Note that Original Medicare provides coverage for most essential medical services and supplies across hospitals, physicians’ practices, and other healthcare establishments. In contrast, Medicare Advantage extends coverage for all services included under Original Medicare.

Therefore, depending on your healthcare needs and circumstances, reverting to Original Medicare might be a feasible choice.

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Transitioning from Medicare Advantage to Medigap


When Can I Switch Medicare Advantage Plans?, Transitioning from Medicare Advantage to Medigap


Sometimes, you might find that Medicare Advantage doesn’t provide the coverage you need, and you may want to consider transitioning to Medigap. Medigap, also known as Medicare Supplement Insurance, helps cover some of the healthcare costs that Original Medicare doesn’t cover.

However, transitioning from Medicare Advantage to Medigap requires careful consideration of enrollment timing and understanding of Medigap guaranteed issue rights.

During the transition from Medicare Advantage to Medigap, these guaranteed issue rights are particularly significant as they protect against potential rejection or premium hikes due to health issues.

The timing of enrollment is also vital as it influences the guaranteed right to procure a Medigap policy.


Medigap Enrollment Timing

The Medigap Open Enrollment period commences in the first month of acquiring Medicare Part B, provided you are 65 or older. This six-month window is your golden opportunity to secure the best Medigap policy without having to worry about medical underwriting.

Medical underwriting, a process where insurance companies evaluate your medical history to decide whether to offer you a policy, cannot be used by an insurance company to determine the acceptance of an application for Medigap coverage during this initial six-month Medigap Open Enrollment period.

In other words, coverage cannot be denied based on pre-existing health conditions during this period.


Medigap Guaranteed Issue Rights

Medigap guaranteed issue rights, alternatively known as Medigap protections, apply to situations where an insurance company cannot refuse to issue a Medigap policy and must offer a policy at the most favorable rate, regardless of your health status.

These rights become applicable in the following situations:

  • During the 6-month Medigap Open Enrollment period


  • Losing a group health plan that covered Medicare cost-sharing


  • Disenrolling from a Medicare Advantage Plan within 12 months of initial enrollment


These rights protect your eligibility and premium rates from the influence of pre-existing health conditions or medical history when applicable.

Prescription Drug Coverage Changes


When Can I Switch Medicare Advantage Plans?, Prescription Drug Coverage Changes


Transitioning between Medicare Advantage plans isn’t just about healthcare providers and coverage; it can also bring changes to your prescription drug coverage.

Comprehending how to maneuver these changes is fundamental to maintaining drug coverage that suits your needs.

Prescription drug coverage is a key element of Medicare Advantage plans. However, when switching plans, it’s important to be mindful of potential changes in this coverage.

This could mean:

  • Losing coverage if you switch to a plan without it


  • Experiencing changes in the specific drugs covered


  • Experiencing changes in the costs associated with the drugs


Comparing Part D Plans

Medicare Part D plans, also referred to as Medicare drug coverage, assist in covering the expenses of prescription drugs, reducing individual costs, and providing protection against increased costs.

Hence, when contemplating a switch between Medicare Advantage plans, comparing Part D plans becomes essential.

When evaluating Part D plans, it’s important to consider factors such as:

  • the coverage of specific drugs


  • premium costs


  • deductibles


  • copayments


  • the comprehensive benefits provided by each plan


Tools like the Medicare Plan Finder at www.medicare.gov can be helpful in comparing these plans and finding one that best suits your needs within your plan’s service area.


Maintaining Consistent Drug Coverage

To avoid potential penalties or coverage gaps, it’s vital to maintain consistent drug coverage when transitioning between Medicare Advantage plans. To ensure this, you can enroll in another Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (Part D).

However, it’s important to be mindful of coverage gaps, such as the infamous ‘donut hole’ or coverage gap. This is a phase during which there’s a temporary limit on what the drug plan will cover, potentially leading to increased out-of-pocket expenses for medications.

Keeping these potential coverage gaps in mind can help you in maintaining consistent drug protection.

Tips for a Smooth Medicare Advantage Plan Switch


When Can I Switch Medicare Advantage Plans?, Tips for a Smooth Medicare Advantage Plan Switch


Switching Medicare Advantage plans doesn’t have to be daunting. With careful research, open communication with your current providers, and a keen eye on important dates, you can navigate this change smoothly and confidently change Medicare Advantage plans.

Be it grasping the subtleties of different plans or tracking enrollment periods, each step is critical for a successful transition.

Let’s delve deeper into how you can effectively research and compare plans, communicate with your providers, and keep track of important dates.


Researching and Comparing Plans

Thorough research is the cornerstone of any plan switch. A comparison of Medicare Advantage plans can help determine the most suitable option based on your healthcare needs and preferences.

Comparing plans isn’t just about costs; it’s also about the benefits each plan offers and whether it includes the healthcare providers you need.

The Medicare.gov comparison tool and star ratings assigned by Medicare can be useful in comparing plans and understanding their performance.

Prioritizing factors such as coverage, comprehensiveness of coverage, and costs can help you make a well-informed decision.


Communicating with Current Providers

Maintaining open and effective communication with your current healthcare providers stands as another essential step towards a seamless plan switch. Discussing potential plan changes with your providers can help ensure continuity of care and prevent any surprises.

To effectively communicate these changes, you can:

  • Use clear and simple language


  • Avoid medical jargon


  • Provide regular updates


  • Allow for questions


  • Notify your providers if they are leaving the plan’s network


  • Choose an alternative provider within the new plan’s network.


Keeping Track of Important Dates

In the process of a Medicare Advantage plan switch, tracking important dates and deadlines is of paramount importance.

Being aware of these dates can prevent you from missing opportunities to enroll in, switch, or drop plans, thus ensuring that you obtain the coverage that best fits your needs within the specified timeframes.

Each time window, be it the Annual Election Period or the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period, holds significance for different reasons.

Furthermore, starting from January 1, 2024, individuals enrolling in Medicare Advantage due to an exceptional situation will have a two-month time frame to join a plan, starting from the moment they enroll in both Medicare Parts A and B.


Navigating the world of Medicare Advantage plans can seem complex, but with a clear understanding of enrollment periods, careful consideration of change implications, and an organized approach to research and communication, you can make a smooth transition.

Remember, your healthcare needs and circumstances are unique, and your Medicare coverage should reflect that.

So, whether you’re considering a switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another, or contemplating a transition to Original Medicare or Medigap, make sure the plan you choose aligns with your individual healthcare needs and preferences.


Frequently Asked Questions


→  When can a member switch or change a Medicare Advantage plan?

You can switch or change a Medicare Advantage plan during the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (MA OEP), which runs from January 1 to March 31 each year.

This period allows you to switch to another Medicare Advantage plan or return to Original Medicare.


→  Can you switch from Medicare Advantage to original Medicare without penalty?

Yes, during your first year in a Medicare Advantage plan, you could switch back to Original Medicare without penalty if you left Medigap for Medicare Advantage.


  What are the different Medicare Advantage enrollment periods?

The different enrollment periods for Medicare Advantage are the Initial Enrollment Period, the Annual Election Period, and the Special Enrollment Period.

These periods offer options for enrolling in or switching Medicare Advantage plans.


 Can I switch Medicare Advantage plans outside of the enrollment periods?

Yes, under exceptional circumstances, you can switch Medicare Advantage plans outside of the usual enrollment periods.

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Russell Noga
( Medicare Expert )

Russell Noga is the CEO of ZRN Health & Financial Services, and head content editor of several Medicare insurance online publications. He has over 15 years of experience as a licensed Medicare insurance broker helping Medicare beneficiaries learn about Medicare, Medicare Advantage Plans, Medigap insurance, and Medicare Part D prescription drug plans.