Your Health

Open Season For Medicare Advantage Plans

If it's November, it must be time to start thinking about health insurance.

There's a blitz of stories reminding Medicare beneficiaries to review their prescription drug plan choices to make sure they're in the best one for their needs.

Although drug plans hog the spotlight, the year-end enrollment period is also the time for seniors to enroll in or switch Medicare Advantage plans.

Normally, this event doesn't garner quite so much attention, because in the past if seniors missed the fall enrollment period they had another chance to make changes at the beginning of the next year.

Not anymore. Under the health law, the second enrollment period for Medicare Advantage - from January through March - is going away. With few exceptions, seniors who want to switch Medicare Advantage plans need to do it this fall, or lose out on their chance to do so at all.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services doesn't estimate how many MA plan members switch plans every year. But since nearly a quarter of all Medicare beneficiaries are now in these managed care plans, it's a good bet that at least some of them change plans year to year.

In early 2011, there will still be an enrollment period, or rather, a disenrollment period. From Jan. 1 to Feb. 15, Medicare beneficiaries can leave their Medicare Advantage plan and join traditional Medicare if they wish, and add a drug plan to it. But they can't switch MA plans at that point.

Why the change? Medicare experts say it's an effort to shorten the time insurers market their plans to seniors. "It can help seniors really focus on their choices for a specified time, and not be bombarded for four to six months with marketing," says Joe Baker, president of the Medicare Rights Center, a consumer advocacy group.



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