How do I join a Medicare Advantage Plan?

There are two times when you can join a Medicare Advantage Plan:

  • During your initial 7-month enrollment period that surrounds your 65th birthday.
  • On an annual basis from October 15th- December 7th of every year.

Certain exceptions allow you to join Advantage Plans at other times of the year. For example, you can join outside of standard enrollment times if you are moving, getting Extra Help or living in an institution.

To enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan it also helps to do your homework. Each Medicare Advantage Plan is unique and to finding the best one for your needs will require that you carefully read, understand and compare all the details in the plans that are available.

In addition, Medicare Advantage Plans can close and they might not be accepting new members in your area. Before even starting research on a particular plan make sure the plan you are interested in is accepting patients and that you reside in the plan's service area.

If you have insurance through your retiree plan or through a current employer you will want to contact them directly to make sure that those benefits can work in conjunction with the Medicare Advantage Plan. In addition, if you currently have Original Medicare and want to switch to an Advantage Plan be aware that your Medigap (supplemental insurance) can't be used with Advantage. Dropping this policy you may be irreversible. You may not be able to get your Medigap policy back if you change your mind and decide to leave Advantage and return to Original Medicare. Call Medicare and make sure you understand all the details of the new Advantage Plan before enrolling.

Auntie Lou says, "When putting out the candy for the kids on Halloween take out your Medicare docs and think about switching plans."

Actually enrolling in the Advantage Plan is the easy part. You can do this by filling out an application and submitting it directly to the Advantage Plan or to the Advantage Plan representative. You can also call Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE to enroll or enroll on their website: http://www.medicare.gov/

Lastly, take time to review the "evidence of coverage" and "annual notice of change of coverage" for your Advantage Plan each fall. Changes and new benefits occur yearly and they could directly affect your health care coverage.