6 Things You Need to Know About the Medicare Open Enrollment Period

By Guest Blogger, Lee Elliott

It’s that time of year again. Cooler temperatures, holiday shopping and the annual fall Medicare Open Enrollment Period.

For many Medicare beneficiaries, the Medicare Open Enrollment Period (also called the “Annual Election Period,” or “AEP”), is the main time that they can make changes to their Medicare coverage, which makes it among the most important periods of year.

Here are six things every Medicare beneficiary should know about AEP.

1.  The Medicare Open Enrollment Period only lasts for eight weeks.

AEP lasts from October 15 to December 7 every year.

2. There are certain changes you can make to your Medicare coverage.

During open enrollment, Medicare beneficiaries can add, drop or switch Medicare Advantage plans or Medicare Part D (prescription drug) plans from any insurance company that provides Medicare plans.

Any changes you make to your coverage during this year’s Open Enrollment Period will take effect on January 1, 2019. If you take no action during AEP, your current coverage will continue (as long as your plan is not ending).

3. For many beneficiaries, this is the only time of year you can make coverage changes.

Outside of AEP, your options to make changes to your Medicare coverage may be limited.

You may be granted a Medicare Special Enrollment Period at other times of the year, but you will need to fit one of a few unique circumstances to qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.

For most beneficiaries, open enrollment is the only time to update their Medicare coverage for the coming year. If you don’t act during AEP, you may be stuck with your current coverage for a full year.

4. You should receive an Annual Notice of Change if your Medicare plan made any major changes.

Each fall, before AEP begins, current members of a Medicare Advantage plan or a Medicare Part D plan should receive an Annual Notice of Change in the mail.

This letter notifies beneficiaries of any changes to their Medicare plan for the upcoming year. Be sure to open it and read it! Note any changes to your plan that may affect your benefits and Medicare plan costs in the coming year.

If you haven’t received an Annual Notice of Change from your plan by October 1, contact your plan provider for further information.

5. AEP is a great time to shop around and compare Medicare plans.

Each year, new Medicare Advantage plans and Medicare Part D plans may be made available in your area. Some plans may offer new additional benefits or may offer lower costs than before.

AEP can be a great chance for you to learn about other Medicare plans that may be available where you live. You may find that another plan option is a better fit for your health care needs and budget, and you don’t want to miss the chance to take advantage of those potential savings!

The National Council on Aging maintains a blog that can help you stay updated on Medicare news, and you can have updates delivered right to your email address.

6. You can get help understanding your Medicare coverage.

Yes, Medicare coverage can be confusing. But you don’t have to navigate it alone. Contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) for help understanding your Medicare coverage options. You may also want to contact a licensed insurance agent who can answer your questions and walk you through the details of various plans sold in your area.


The Medicare Annual Enrollment Period is a time when you may be able to change your Medicare coverage for the better. Take the time to shop around, explore different plans available in your area and assess how your current health status aligns with your present health insurance coverage.

Do so, and you can start the holiday season off right.

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