Seniors on Medicare don't all have the same coverage. While Parts A and B provide the same benefits for all enrollees, those on original Medicare get a choice when it comes to their Part D prescription-drug coverage. And those who sign up for Medicare Advantage get to choose their specific coverage, as well.
Each year, Medicare enrollees are given an opportunity to make changes to their coverage during the program's open-enrollment period, which runs from mid-October through early December. This year's open-enrollment period wrapped up earlier in the week, so many seniors are now locked into their plans for the entirety of 2022. But some seniors may still have an opportunity to make changes to their coverage if they're not satisfied with it.
A special open-enrollment period for Medicare Advantage
Many seniors prefer to get coverage under Medicare Advantage because it often pays for commonly needed services original Medicare won't cover. These include dental care, eye exams, and hearing aids, among others.
Medicare Advantage can also be a more cost-effective alternative to original Medicare. For seniors whose income is limited largely to Social Security, saving on healthcare expenses is a crucial means of staying afloat financially during retirement, which lends to the appeal of Medicare Advantage.
But Advantage plans also come with their share of drawbacks. Some offer limited provider choices and few in-network pharmacies, making it harder for participants to secure the care and medications they need.
Advantage plans can also cost more from one year to the next, which is also the case for Medicare Part D drug plans. Granted, Advantage plans are required to inform enrollees of cost increases, but sometimes, those change notices inadvertently get missed or go unread.
Seniors who were unhappy with their existing Advantage plans had the chance to make changes during this recent open-enrollment period. But those who didn't may not be completely out of luck. That's because Medicare Advantage has its own open-enrollment period that runs from January 1 through March 31 every year.
During that period, Advantage enrollees are able to drop their existing plans and sign up for a new Advantage plan. They can also drop Medicare Advantage completely and sign up for original Medicare, plus a Part D drug plan.
Best of all, any changes made during Medicare Advantage's open-enrollment period take effect quickly. Someone who switches from one Advantage plan to another, for example, will see coverage under that new plan begin the first day of the month after the month that the enrollment request is put in.
Weigh coverage options carefully
Healthcare is a major expense for seniors, and the right Medicare choices could make it more or less expensive. While it's too late to sign up for a new Part D drug plan for the upcoming year, Medicare Advantage participants still have the option to make changes to their coverage at the start of 2022. For some, that could mean not getting stuck with a sub-par plan for an entire year.