Annual Enrollment Period Changes in 2011
By Sue Short
The federal government has moved up the annual enrollment period when you may switch or drop Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D plans by a month in 2011. Whereas previous annual enrollment period dates ran from Nov. 15 to Dec. 31, the newer, earlier dates now run from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.
Although this decision extends the period an extra week, it moves the deadline up by 24 days and could pose a potential problem for seniors who are unaware of the change and typically wait until the end of the year to review their plans. (At eMedicareSupplements, we have created an alert that you can install on your website or blog to spread the word about this new deadline.)
New Deadlines for Insurers
To help facilitate this change, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, has required Part D and Medicare Advantage insurers to send annual notices about changes in coverage to beneficiaries by Sept. 30 — one month earlier than the 2010 deadline. Insurance companies will then begin marketing their new plans for the following year on Oct. 1.
CMS now also requires group plans and other insurers to send out the annual Notice of Creditable Coverage by Oct. 15 instead of Nov. 15. This notice informs Medicare-eligible beneficiaries about whether the insurer's drug coverage is creditable or not under Medicare Part D. Creditable coverage allows seniors to postpone enrollment in Medicare Part D without penalty.
If You Miss the Deadline
If you do not make an enrollment decision by Dec. 7 and the deadline passes you by, a few different scenarios could play out, depending on the status of your plan and your insurer.
If your plan is still offered the following year and you do nothing, you will remain enrolled in your plan. If your plan details do not change, this may work out fine for you. If your plan details do change, however, you could get stuck with a plan that you do not want. As mentioned above, your insurer is required to inform you of changes to your plan.
If your plan is not being offered the following year and you do nothing, your insurance company has the option to enroll you in a similar plan or drop you into traditional Medicare, leaving you without coverage for prescription drugs.
If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, you are not completely out of options if you miss the Dec. 7 deadline. From Jan. 1 to Feb. 14 you can drop your Advantage plan in exchange for original Medicare and a Part D plan of your choice, but you cannot switch to different Advantage plan.
There are also special circumstances that allow you to make changes outside the annual enrollment period. If you qualify for and receive low-income assistance, you may enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan with drug coverage at any time. Also, if you hold a Medicare Advantage policy that does not have a five-star rating but a plan with a five-star rating is available in your area, you may switch to that plan at any time.
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