retirement

Switching to a New Medicare Advantage Plan Gets Easier

New rules in 2019 give consumers more time and options to change their Medicare Advantage plan if they don't like it.

Question: I switched to a different Medicare Advantage plan for 2019 because the premiums were lower than my previous plan. But I found that some of the doctors and hospitals I want to use aren't covered by the new plan. Can I switch again?

Answer: Yes. Previously, if you were unhappy with your Medicare Advantage plan you chose during the fall enrollment, you were either stuck with it or you had from January 1 to February 14 to switch to traditional Medicare and get a Part D policy. But new rules starting in 2019 give consumers more flexibility—and time.

Now, if you're unhappy with your choice of plan, you have from January 1 to March 31 to swap one Medicare Advantage plan for another. You can also switch from a Medicare Advantage plan to traditional Medicare with a Part D policy. However, there's no guarantee that you will qualify for a medigap policy, which supplements traditional Medicare and helps with co-payments and deductibles. Insurers can reject you for Medigap coverage or charge more because of preexisting conditions if more than six months have passed since you signed up for Medicare Part B.

You can check out the plan options in your area, including premiums, coverage and estimated out-of-pocket costs for your drugs and general health condition, with the Medicare Plan Finder (Medicare Advantage plans are called "Medicare Health Plans" in the tool). Ask the doctors you'd like to use what plans they're covered by, and contact the plans you're considering to double check that those doctors are included.

After March 31 you still may have some limited opportunities to change plans. You can switch into a Medicare Advantage plan with a five-star quality rating anytime during the year, if one is available in your area. "We're enrolling year-round," says Agnes Strandberg of Kaiser Permanente, which has five-star plans in several states. But there are only 14 five-star plans in 2019, and many states or counties don't have one. You can look up the plans' star ratings for your zip code at the Medicare Plan Finder.

You can also switch plans if you qualify for a "special enrollment period," such as if you move out of your plan's service area. For more information about the rules for special enrollment periods, see Medicares Understanding Medicare Part C and Part D Enrollment Periods (Part C is Medicare Advantage plans).

Otherwise, you have to wait until the next open enrollment period, from October 15 to December 7, 2019, for new coverage to begin January 1, 2020.

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