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Do you need to change your Medicare Supplement plan during Annual Election Period (AEP)

Medicare Supplement Plans function differently from other Medicare plans such as Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans. Although each type of plan is offered by private insurers contracted with Medicare, insurers offering Medicare Supplement Plans are not obligated to sell you a plan outside the Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period or other instances when you have guaranteed issue rights.

If you’re wondering how the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period works with Medicare Supplement Plans, this article will help you understand when you can—and can’t—buy Medicare Supplement Plans with guaranteed issue rights.

When can I buy Medicare Supplement Plans?

Technically, you can apply to buy a Medicare Supplement Plan any time you choose, but the insurer is only required to sell you a plan when you have guaranteed issue rights, typically during your Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period. This period is different from the Medicare Annual Enrollment period.

The Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period happens just once, beginning in the month you are both age 65 or over and enroll in Medicare Part B. Your Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period lasts for six months, and during that time, you can generally buy any Medicare Supplement Plan sold in your state. You can’t be turned down because of a health issue, and you can’t be charged more because of a pre-existing condition.

Is there a Medicare Supplement Annual Election Period?

There isn’t an annual enrollment period for Medicare Supplement Plans. That’s why it’s very important to buy the coverage you want when you first become eligible. Some people buy a cheaper, less comprehensive Medicare Supplement Plan when they first sign up for Medicare Part B, thinking they’ll upgrade to a plan with more benefits when they get older. However, unless you have guaranteed issue rights, insurers can make you go through medical underwriting when you apply to purchase a Medicare Supplement Plan outside of your Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period. If you don’t pass underwriting, the insurer doesn’t have to sell you a plan.

Medical underwriting is the process of reviewing your past medical history and medical records. Although each insurer’s underwriting standards may be different, in most cases, if you’ve had a serious health situation such as a stroke, or you are currently under a doctor’s care for a chronic condition such as COPD or diabetes, you can be turned down.

This is why you may want to buy the coverage you think you will want five or 10 years from now when you first become eligible to buy a Medicare Supplement Plan. You may not be able to upgrade from your current plan, or buy any plan at all, if you wait.

What can I change during the Medicare Annual Enrollment period?

The Medicare Annual Enrollment Period runs from October 15 to December 7 each year. During the annual election period, you can switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan, or from Medicare Advantage back to Original Medicare. You can also switch to a new Medicare Advantage plan if you are currently covered by Medicare Advantage.

If you don’t have Medicare Part D coverage for prescription drugs, you can enroll during the Medicare Annual Enrollment period, or you can switch from one Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan to another. You can also drop your Part D prescription drug coverage completely.

Medicare added a new Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment period for 2019. The new Medicare Advantage annual election period runs from January 1 through March 31 each year. During this period, you can switch between Medicare Advantage plans or drop Medicare Advantage and return to Original Medicare. You can’t, however, switch from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage, or switch your Part D prescription drug coverage. The new annual enrollment period applies only to Medicare Advantage Plans, not Medicare Supplement Plans or Part D Prescription Drug Plans.

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eHealth's Medicare website is operated by eHealthInsurance Services, Inc., a licensed health insurance agency doing business as eHealth. The purpose of this site is the solicitation of insurance. Contact may be made by an insurance agent/producer or insurance company. eHealth and Medicare supplement insurance plans are not connected with or endorsed by the U.S. government or the federal Medicare program. We offer plans from a number of insurance companies.