If you’re enrolled in Medicare, every year there’s an opportunity to make changes to your Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D) for the following year. In 2012, the enrollment period begins October 15 and runs through December 7, with the changes becoming effective on January 1, 2013.
During this same period, you can also switch between “Original Medicare” (Parts A and B) and a “Medicare Advantage” plan (Part C).
You’re not alone. But your timing can affect your costs, so it’s wise to get the details.
Let’s start with “Original Medicare”
If you get retirement benefits from Social Security, you’ll automatically get Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Medicare Part B (Medicare Insurance) when you turn 65. If you’re eligible for Social Security retirement benefits but haven’t filed for them yet, you will need to sign up for Medicare during the three months before you turn 65 (or later, if you’re still covered under a group health plan based on current employment).
For most people, Medicare Part A is free because they (or their spouses) paid Medicare taxes while they worked. On the other hand, Medicare Part B isn’t free. The monthly premium is about $100, but it’s higher (ranging between $140 and $320) for anyone with income over $85,000 or household income over $170,000. It’s also important to know that Part B is optional. If you have other coverage, for example through an employer, you can initially opt out and then enroll later on, when your employment or group coverage ends. We highly recommend that you sign up for Parts A and B when you’re first eligible, to avoid penalties and higher premiums.
An alternative to “Original Medicare”
Medicare Advantage plans (Part C) are sold by insurance companies and overseen by Medicare. These plans offer more services, which may include prescription drug coverage, and usually cost more. As long as you have both Part A and Part B, you qualify for Part C. You can switch between Original Medicare (A and B) and Medicare Advantage (C) during the enrollment period outlined every fall, which is outlined above for this year.
What about Drugs? That’s Part D
Whether you’re enrolled in Original Medicare, or have Part C without prescription drug coverage, you can join a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (Part D) during the aforementioned enrollment period. During this period, you can also switch from one drug plan to another.
Can I make changes at any other time?
Yes, in limited circumstances you might have a “Special Enrollment Period” to make changes to Medicare Advantage and Medicare prescription drug coverage. Some examples include moving to a new address that isn’t in your plan’s service area or moving back to the United States after living outside the country.
What else should I know?
To get more detailed information about signing up for Medicare Advantage Plans (Part C) or prescription drug coverage (Part D), we suggest you visit www.medicare.gov. The official Medicare website also has useful interactive tools, which can provide personalized information about available plans and help you choose the right option for yourself.
When is the Enrollment Period for Part C and Part D, again?
It’s going on now! October 15 through December 7!