Medicare open enrollment is set to start. How to pick the best plan

If you’re on Medicare, it’s time to give your coverage a yearly checkup.

The program’s annual enrollment period runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, which is when you can make coverage changes that will take effect Jan. 1. During this autumn window, you can:

• Switch to an Advantage Plan (Part C) from original Medicare (Part A hospital coverage and Part B outpatient coverage);
• Switch to original Medicare from an Advantage Plan;
• Move from one Advantage Plan to another;
• Move from one prescription drug plan (Part D) to another, or purchase one if you did not when first eligible.

Experts say that even if you’ve been happy with your coverage, plans are continually modified, which makes it important to evaluate whether your current insurance is still the best option available.

“Plans might change what medications are covered,” said Elizabeth Gavino, founder of Lewin & Gavino in New York and an independent broker and general agent for Medicare plans. “Same with doctors — they might not still be considered in-network next year.

“There also could be new plans in your area that are better than your current one,” she said. “It’s always important to review your options.”

It’s worth noting that Medicare’s fall open enrollment is different from your initial enrollment period, which is a seven-month window that starts three months before your 65th birthday and ends three months after your birth month. Generally speaking, everyone turning 65 must sign up for Medicare Parts A and — unless they meet certain exclusions — Part B during their initial enrollment period, or face a potential penalty.

Also during that initial sign-up time, you can sign up for an Advantage Plan, which includes Parts A and B and, typically, a Part D prescription plan. They also often include additional coverage such as dental, vision or wellness programs.

Separate rules apply for people who want a supplemental Medigap policy, which can only be paired with original Medicare.

And while prescription drug coverage is optional, if you don’t sign up when you first qualify for coverage and then change your mind later, you’ll pay a life-lasting penalty unless you meet certain exclusions (i.e., you receive acceptable coverage through a union or employer).

Here are some key things to keep in mind this year as you review your coverage. If, after evaluating your options, you determine that you want to stick with your current plan, you don’t need to take any action.

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