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Medicare Annual Enrollment Period Guide

enroll-period-guide

The multitude of Medicare plans and options can often leave beneficiaries confused and frustrated. Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) -- also known as Medicare Open Enrollment -- is an especially bad time to be confused. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to AEP.

What AEP Is

The Medicare Annual Enrollment Period is a yearly stretch of time during which Medicare beneficiaries can join, drop, or change Medicare Advantage, Supplement, or Prescription Drug plans.

Outside of AEP and a handful of special circumstances, Medicare beneficiaries are typically locked in to their Medicare coverage for a year. Thus AEP becomes an important time for evaluating plan coverage and potentially researching and enrolling in plans that may better fit each beneficiary.

When AEP Occurs

AEP typically occurs from October 15 to December 7 every year.

Key AEP Terms

Many industry terms and abbreviations may show up in AEP reading or research. We’re going to define several of them to give you a head start.

Annual Notice of Change (ANOC)

If you are already enrolled in a Medicare plan outside of Original Medicare (Parts A & B), your plan provider is required to send you a letter in September -- before AEP. This letter will detail any changes to the terms of your plan, such as different costs, added or dropped services, etc. Being notified of these changes may help you make an informed decision about your coverage for the following year, and allows plenty of time for researching other plans during AEP.

Original Medicare

Medicare includes a number of “Parts,” which cover different elements of healthcare. Parts A and B are part of the government-run Medicare program for which most people are eligible at 65. (There are some exceptions related to things like time paying into Social Security or disability; you can learn more about eligibility here.) Part A is typically premium-free, while Part B requires a monthly premium. Part A covers hospital services and some nursing facility services. Part B includes coverage for preventative and medically necessary services and supplies.

Medicare Advantage

Medicare Advantage plans fall under Part C of Medicare. These are health insurance plans offered by private carriers that include Medicare Parts A and B, as well as additional benefits, sometimes available for little or no additional costs. Additional benefits might include vision, hearing, dental, or fitness, none of which are included in Original Medicare.

Medicare Supplement

Medicare Supplement plans -- also called Medigap -- help cover some healthcare costs that are not covered by Original Medicare, like deductibles, copayments and coinsurance. These plans are offered by private companies contracted with the federal government, and do not include additional benefits, unlike Medicare Advantage plans.

Medicare Part D (Prescription Drug Coverage)

Original Medicare does not include coverage for prescription drugs, which can be a major cost for some individuals. Private companies do offer separate prescription drug plans that can be joined in addition to Original Medicare. Alternatively, some Medicare Advantage plans include prescription drug coverage, so you may be able to find one plan that includes multiple benefits you want.

For more information about Medicare and enrollment, you may want to check out our free Medicare guide, Making Sense of Medicare.

Get Help During AEP

Our licensed Medicare advocates are available to answer questions and assist you in researching plans in your area that fit your healthcare and financial needs. They are also happy to assist you with enrolling in the plan of your choice. Call us at 1-800-991-4407 / TTY 711, 10 AM to 9 PM ET, Monday through Friday.