Medicare Advantage enrollees who are dissatisfied with their plan have until Wednesday to switch into another plan or to go back to Original Medicare and, if needed, buy a prescription drug plan.
The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment period ends March 31. It offers a do-over for people who might have signed up for Medicare Advantage during the fall open enrollment period, only to discover they're not quite happy with their coverage. (If you're already enrolled in Original Medicare, you can't make any changes to your coverage at this time.)
About a third of Medicare beneficiaries opt for Medicare Advantage instead of Original Medicare. Also known as Part C, this coverage is managed by private health insurers — Aetna, Humana, and UnitedHealthcare are among the carriers — that contract with the government to provide Parts A and B.
In addition to the basics, most Medicare Advantage plans include some coverage for services that Original Medicare doesn’t pay for, such as dental, vision, hearing or fitness benefits, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Most Medicare Advantage plans also include prescription drug coverage.
But a downside to these plans is that many have restricted doctor networks. About two-thirds of Medicare Advantage enrollees are in HMO plans, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That means that in order to have your care fully covered, you have to stick with participating doctors and hospitals. This could be limiting for snowbirds, who spend part of the year in a different state, and also for people who want to see a specialist who is out of their network.
With Original Medicare, by contrast, you can visit any doctor or hospital in the country that takes Medicare.
But keep this important caveat in mind: if you go back to Original Medicare now, you may not be able to buy a Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) policy. Outside of the six-month window when you first sign up for Medicare, Medigap insurers can generally use medical underwriting to charge you more or even deny you coverage based on your health status. A serious cancer diagnosis would likely limit your choices, for example. Since Original Medicare alone covers only about 80% of your medical bills, the inability to buy a Medigap plan could leave you exposed to high out-of-pocket costs.
You can shop for and enroll in plans through the Medicare Plan Finder.