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What You Need to Know About This Year's Medicare Open Enrollment Period

If you have Medicare, you don't need to participate in the new health insurance marketplace

Q: What happens during the regular annual Medicare open enrollment?

A: Medicare beneficiaries can change their health and prescription plans for the next year. Changes go into effect Jan. 1. You can: 

  • Change from original or traditional fee-for-service Medicare to a private, managed-care Medicare Advantage plan
  • Change from a Medicare Advantage plan back to traditional Medicare
  • Switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another
  • Switch from a Medicare Advantage plan that doesn’t offer drug coverage to one that does
  • Switch from a Medicare Advantage plan that offers drug coverage to one that doesn’t
  • Join a stand-alone Medicare prescription plan
  • Switch from one prescription plan to another
  • Drop your prescription drug coverage altogether

Q: I’m not thrilled with my plan, but there are a lot of choices. Where do I start?

A: Use the Plan Finder tool at www.medicare.gov to compare costs and benefits for each plan available in your area. Details of 2014 plans are available now. If you need personal help, call your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). Contact information is at www.shiptalk.org. If you have Medicare Advantage or a Part D prescription drug plan, you should have received a notice of changes for 2014 in the mail. It will tell you whether your premiums, deductibles, copays and benefits will change next year.

Q: Can’t people change their Medicare coverage later than December?

A. Yes, between Jan. 1 and Feb. 14 every year, people with Medicare Advantage plans can leave their plans and switch to traditional Medicare, if they choose. In specific circumstances, such as a move, people can change Medicare coverage anytime.

Q: I’m happy with my current Medicare choices. What do I do during open enrollment?

A: Not a thing. Your current choices will continue next year.

Q: Where can I find more Medicare information?

A: For enrollment information, go to Social Security’s website, www.ssa.gov or call 800-772-1213. For coverage information, go to www.medicare.gov or call 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227).

Marsha Mercer is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area who covers health policy.

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