Choosing the right Medicare plan is an important move on the road to keeping your healthcare costs in retirement manageable. Each year, seniors on Medicare can elect a new Part D or Medicare Advantage plan during the program's open enrollment period, which runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7.

But what if you chose an Advantage plan this past fall that you're not happy with? Maybe your costs under that plan are higher than expected, or you're limited to too narrow a window of providers. If that's the case, you're in luck. Thanks to Medicare Advantage's dedicated open enrollment period, you have the option to switch to a plan that better suits your needs, or even drop your Advantage coverage altogether. But you need to act quickly, because you only have another month to make that change.

Doctor patting older man on the back


How Medicare Advantage's open enrollment period works

If you're enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, you now get the option to switch to a different one or drop Advantage altogether and revert back to original Medicare between Jan. 1 and March 31 each year. This open enrollment period is relatively new, and it offers seniors with Advantage plans a lot more flexibility than they previously had.

Why switch Advantage plans?

A large number of Medicare Advantage plans cost less than original Medicare -- but that doesn't mean all plans are a bargain. Furthermore, not all Advantage plans are created equal, so while one plan might offer coverage for gym memberships or fitness classes, another might not. As such, it pays to assess your costs under your Advantage plan and weigh them against the benefits your plan offers. And if you don't like what you see, the option to switch exists -- for another month, at least. Beyond that, you'll need to wait until October to make changes for the upcoming year.

Another thing: Medicare Advantage plans can change from year to year. If you stuck with your former plan because you were happy with it, but changes in coverage have you rethinking that decision, then you have an opportunity to make a switch.

Furthermore, you may find that Medicare Advantage isn't the right solution for you at all, and that you're better off with original Medicare. One downside with Advantage is that it limits you to what could be a small network of providers. If you don't like the doctors you're eligible to see, or find them inconvenient to access, then you may be better off with original Medicare, which basically lets you see any doctor in the country that accepts it.

Along these lines, if you tend to do a lot of domestic travel, you may find any Advantage plan to be too restrictive (though it's worth noting that if you travel internationally a lot, you may be eligible for healthcare coverage oversees with Advantage, whereas original Medicare will not cover you outside the U.S.).

Don't stick with coverage that isn't working for you

The wrong Medicare Advantage plan could put a huge strain on your retirement budget and cause you to neglect your health -- and that's not what you want. If you're unhappy with your current plan, take advantage of the option to switch.