Medicare provides certain time periods when you can change Medicare plans. The main one is the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period, which runs from October 15 to December 7 each year. Anyone on Medicare can make coverage changes during this time that then go into effect the following year.
But what do you do if your new Medicare plan doesn’t fit your needs? Or if during the year you are caught off guard by changes to your plan benefits? Maybe your refill is denied at the pharmacy counter because your medication is not on your plan’s list of covered drugs (formulary). Or maybe you learn that your doctor is not in your plan’s network.
If any of these things happen, you may be able to change Medicare plans before the next Annual Enrollment Period. But you’ll need to meet certain qualifications.
When You Can Change Medicare Plans After Annual Enrollment
There are two opportunities outside of the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period when you may be able to make changes to your Medicare coverage: 1) the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period and 2) the Special Enrollment Period for qualifying life events.
The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period
The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period runs from January 1 to March 31 each year. You have to be currently enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan to be eligible to make changes during this time. Changes you can make include:
- Switch to another Medicare Advantage plan
- Drop a Medicare Advantage plan and go back to Original Medicare
- Join a Part D prescription drug plan if you qualify.
Get more information in our article, What Can I Do during the Medicare Advantage Enrollment Period.
The Medicare Special Enrollment Period for Qualifying Life Events
You may also change Medicare plans during a special 2-month Medicare Special Enrollment Period, if you have a qualifying life event. During this Special Enrollment Period, you usually can join, switch or drop a Medicare Advantage plan or a Part D prescription drug plan.
You may be granted a Special Enrollment Period in select situations such as:
- You move out of your current Medicare plan’s service area.
- You move within the current plan’s service area and have new plan choices.
- You move into or out of an institution.
- Your Medicare plan stops serving your area or loses its contract with Medicare.
- You lose creditable drug coverage through no fault of your own.
- You lose retiree, union or COBRA coverage.
Changing your Medicare plan is possible during the above periods so be sure to keep these in mind.