When you first become eligible for Medicare, unless you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period, you should sign up. This Initial Enrollment Period, for American seniors, begins three months before the month you turn 65 and extends three months after.
Original Medicare is the standard plan you first sign up for. You can opt not to enroll in Part B initially, but if you enroll later, a late enrollment penalty will be included in your monthly premium for as long as you have Part B coverage.
Within your first three months of Medicare, you can switch to a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan if you choose to. These plans have the coverage of Part A and Part B as well as prescription drug coverage and often extras like dental, hearing, and vision coverage.
After this time, any changes to your coverage will need to be made during either the General Enrollment period (January 1 to March 31) or during the fall Open Enrollment Period for Medicare Advantage (October 15 to December 7).
During the fall Open Enrollment Period, you can switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan or switch back. You can also change your Part C plan with drug coverage to one without, or vice versa. You can also join, drop, or switch your Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D) plan.
To switch between Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans without concern for drug coverage, make changes between January 1 and March 31.
If you join a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan, you cannot drop your Part B coverage. You will still pay the Part B monthly premium on top of your Part C costs. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, you cannot have a Medicare Supplement policy.
Medicare Supplements and Drug Coverage
Medicare Supplement policies give you 30 days of free trial coverage, so you have thirty days once the coverage starts to decide if the plan is right for you. If you choose to switch plans within the thirty days, you can cancel your coverage with no fee.
If you want a new prescription drug coverage plan, you can switch during the fall period. Be sure to hold your coverage within 63 days of switching to avoid a late enrollment penalty for not having creditable coverage.
These changes can come about with some research on your part and the help of comparison sites and licensed insurance professionals. Before switching your coverage plan, consider your needs and price-point. Medicare has programs to help eligible low-income individuals afford coverage.
For all of your Medicare questions, refer to Medicare on Video.