Medicare Part C is also known as Medicare Advantage. This is a particular type of Medicare coverage that provides individuals an alternative to Medicare Part A and Part A. Medicare Advantage plans are offered via private health insurance companies.
Those who enroll in Medicare Advantage plans still have Medicare. However, those individuals will receive their health care coverage from the Medicare Advantage plan instead of from Medicare Parts A and B (otherwise known as “Original Medicare”).
How Medicare Advantage Plans Work
In addition to covering all of the services that Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B cover, Medicare Advantage plans may also offer additional coverage that isn’t provided through Original Medicare such as hearing, vision, and dental care services.
In order to qualify for enrollment in Medicare Advantage, you must be entitled to Medicare Part A, and also be enrolled in Medicare Part B. You will still be required to pay your Medicare Part B premium – and you will also continue to keep all of your Medicare rights. You will just have additional health care coverage benefits.
Other Coverage Offered Through Medicare Advantage Plans
In many cases, you may also automatically receive Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage if you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan. If this is the case, you should not also enroll in an individual Medicare Plan D prescription drug policy. If this happens, you will be automatically disenrolled from your Medicare Advantage plan and returned to Medicare Parts A and B for your health care coverage, along with your stand alone Medicare Part D plan.
In addition, you should also not enroll in a Medicare Supplement insurance policy if you have Medicare Advantage coverage. This is because the two types of coverage cannot work in conjunction with each other.
Although you may have adequate coverage under your current Medicare Advantage plan, there could come a time when you feel the need to switch to a different plan due to alternate coverage options or a difference in premium cost.
While you are allowed to sign up for different Medicare Advantage plans – as well as make changes to your current coverage – it is important to understand that there are only certain times of year when you are able to do so.
Enrolling in Medicare Advantage
In order to initially enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, you must already have Medicare Parts A and B. In addition, you must also reside in your Medicare Advantage plan’s service area, and the plan must be currently accepting new members. Once you have a Medicare Advantage plan, you are able to change to another plan option, but only at specific times or under particular circumstances.
Annual Election Period
The Annual Election Period runs between October 15th and December 7th of each year. During this time, you can submit your application for enrollment in a new Medicare Advantage plan either in person through a licensed representative, or via the plan’s website. It is also possible to enroll directly through Medicare’s website or by calling Medicare’s toll-free telephone line.
Special Election Period
Under certain circumstances, you can enroll or disenroll from a Medicare Advantage plan. Some of these reasons may include if you move out of your plan’s service area, if Medicare terminates its contract with your particular Medicare Advantage plan, or if the plan itself will be terminating at the end of the year.
Disenrolling in Medicare Advantage
Just like enrolling and changing your Medicare Advantage plan is limited to particular times of the year, you can also disenroll only at certain points in time. These include:
Annual Election Period – As with submitting an application for enrollment, you can only disenroll in your Medicare Advantage plan during an annual election period. This period runs between October 15th and December 7th each year.
Special Election Period – If you qualify for certain circumstances, you may fall into one of the special election period categories and be able to disenroll in your Medicare Advantage plan during a special election period.
Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period – There is also a Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period each year that runs between January 1st and February 14th. Here, an individual must switch back to Original Medicare.
If You Are Switching to Original Medicare
You can initially enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan during the period when you first qualify for Medicare. Then, during the first 45 days of each year – January 1st through February 14th – you are allowed to leave your Medicare Advantage plan and change over to Original Medicare. During this time, you are not allowed to make any changes to your coverage if you have Original Medicare, nor can you change over from one Medicare Advantage plan to another.
If you are switching your coverage from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare (Medicare Parts A and B), you should also consider adding Medicare Part D for prescription drug coverage. This coverage can help to ease the cost of expensive medications that you may take. In addition, you may also opt for a Medicare Supplement insurance policy.
Things to Consider
Regardless of when you decide to change your Medicare Advantage coverage, there are some important factors to consider. For example, you should not cancel your current plan until your new coverage has started. Otherwise, you may find that you are without any coverage at all for a period of time.
In addition, if you want to leave your current Medicare Advantage plan and you do not want to join another Medicare Advantage plan at all, you will need to submit a written notification to the plan, or contact Medicare directly via phone during the enrollment period.