- With a few exceptions, Medicare coverage automatically renews at the end of each year.
- If a plan decides it will no longer contract with Medicare, your plan will not renew.
- There are key dates throughout the year when an insurer must notify you of coverage changes and when you can sign up for new plans.
This article details how Medicare plans renew annually and when to consider signing up for additional Medicare coverage.
Once you enroll in Medicare, your plan(s) will usually automatically renew. This is intended to cut back on paperwork you’d have to submit to Medicare. Let’s take a look at what automatic renewal is like for each aspect of Medicare:
- Original Medicare. If you have original Medicare, your coverage will automatically renew at the end of each year. Because original Medicare is a standard policy across the country, you won’t have to worry that your coverage will be dropped.
- Medicare Advantage. Your Medicare Advantage, or Medicare Part C, plan will automatically renew unless Medicare cancels its contract with the plan or your insurance company decides not to offer the plan you’re currently enrolled in.
- Medicare Part D. Like Medicare Advantage, your Medicare Part D (prescription drug) plan should automatically renew. Exceptions would be if Medicare does not renew the contract with your insurance company or the company no longer offers the plan.
- Medigap. Your Medigap policy should automatically renew. Even if policy changes mean that your insurance company no longer sells a Medigap plan, you can usually keep your plan. However, others entering the Medicare market may not be able to purchase the Medigap policy you have.
Even though Medicare plans automatically renew, this doesn’t mean you should skip the step of evaluating your coverage each year. Later, we’ll cover some additional tips on how to make sure your plan is still right for you.
You will receive a Medicare plan non-renewal notice in October if your insurance company is not renewing its contract with Medicare. Participating health plans may not to renew their contract with Medicare if the plan lost a significant amount of revenue during the year.
The non-renewal notice should let you know if you will be consolidated into another plan that is very similar to your previous plan. Insurance companies call this “mapping.”
If you don’t want to be mapped into a new Medicare Advantage plan, you can take one of the following steps:
- search for and choose a new plan during the annual election period
- do nothing and let your Medicare coverage revert to original Medicare by default (you will need to purchase a Medicare Part D plan if your previous Medicare Advantage plan had drug coverage)
If a plan sponsor isn’t renewing its contract, you should be notified of alternative Medicare Advantage plans that are available in your region.
You should receive a Medicare plan annual notice of change in September from your plan, either from Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D. This notice will describe any of the following changes:
- Costs. This includes deductibles, copays, and premiums.
- Coverage. Changes may include new services offered and updated drug tiers.
- Service area. This includes covered service areas or in-network status of certain pharmacies.
When your plan notifies you of these changes, they’ll usually go into effect the following January. If aspects of your plan are changing, review them carefully to consider if your plan is still affordable and effective for your healthcare needs.
Choosing the best plan is a very individualized process. You probably have unique health needs, prescriptions, and wellness and budget concerns. Some of the ways to find the best plan(s) for you include:
- Review your healthcare spending from last year. Did you quickly meet your deductible? Have more out-of-pocket costs than expected? Start taking any new medications? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you may need to re-evaluate your coverage for the coming year.
- Consider your must-haves. Create a list of doctors that you must have in your network, medications you need coverage for, and how much you can afford to spend. This can help you evaluate your current plan and look for any new plans that may better meet your needs.
- Carefully review your annual notice of change. Make sure to read this notice carefully. Think about how the changes may affect you positively or negatively. Even if your plan hasn’t changed dramatically, it’s still a good idea to shop around. Plans can change significantly from year to year, so it’s worthwhile to spend some time comparing different Medicare plans.
Sometimes, your current plan is still the best. But evaluating plans against your current one can ensure you have the best coverage for you.
If you do choose to switch plans, you can sign up with your new plan during the designated enrollment period. Signing up with the new plan will unenroll you from your previous plan when your new coverage starts.
Just as your insurance company is required to notify you by a certain time of changes, you will have time periods when you can sign up for Medicare Advantage (or go back to original Medicare) or switch your plan.
The initial enrollment period is the 7-month time period where you can sign up for Medicare. This includes the 3 months before your 65th birthday, the month of your birthday, and the 3 months after you turn 65.
If you’re already receiving benefits from the Social Security Administration or Railroad Retirement Board, you will be automatically enrolled in Medicare. However, if you aren’t, you can sign up through the Social Security Administration.
Annual election periods
Also known as Medicare open enrollment, this time period is from October 15 through December 7. This is when you can switch from original Medicare to Medicare Advantage and vice-versa.
You can also change Medicare Advantage plans or add or drop Medicare Part D. Once you make changes, your new coverage usually starts on January 1.
General enrollment period
The general enrollment period is from January 1 through March 31. During this time, you can make a change to your coverage, such as signing up for original Medicare, going from Medicare Advantage to original Medicare, or switching from one Medicare Advantage plan to another. You cannot, however, switch from original Medicare to Medicare Advantage.
Special enrollment period
You can also qualify to make changes outside of a typical Medicare enrollment period during a special enrollment period. This is usually when you lose coverage due to changes in employment, if you move to a different service area, or move into or out of a nursing home.
When you want to make a change in your Medicare coverage, you can visit the plan search tool on Medicare.gov, call Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE, or contact the plan directly.
- Your original Medicare coverage will usually automatically renew.
- Most Medicare Advantage plans also renew without you having to take action.
- If your Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D plan isn’t renewing its contract with Medicare, you should receive a notice before the annual election period so you can choose a new plan.