Q. I have a new Medicare Advantage plan and don’t like it. Can I get rid of it before the next open enrollment?
A. Normally, you can’t switch or change your Medicare Advantage or prescription drug plan except during the annual open enrollment from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. But there are three little-known options that you might be able to take advantage of.
1. Switch back to original Medicare during the annual Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period.
This period that you’ve probably never heard of started Jan. 1 and runs through Feb.14. During this window you can drop your Medicare Advantage plan and switch back to regular Medicare. (You can also sign up for a standalone prescription drug plan to go with it.) But proceed with caution: You won’t necessarily have easy access to a supplemental Medigap plan to pick up regular Medicare’s deductibles and coinsurance.(Not sure of the difference between Medicare Advantage and Medigap? Here’s an explanation.)
If you have a pre-existing condition and have been enrolled in Part B for more than six months, federal law allows Medigap carriers to turn you down or charge you extra if they want. But some states have additional consumer protections that may enable you to buy a Medigap plan at standard rates even with a pre-existing condition. To find out the situation in your state, contact the experts at your free State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP).
2. Enroll in a 5-star Medicare Advantage plan year-round.
Medicare rates all Advantage plans on a range of quality measures, with five stars being the tops. Only 5 percent of plans nationwide have this coveted designation. To encourage carriers to strive for improvement, there’s a 5-Star Special Enrollment Period that runs all year outside of the Open Enrollment window. The bad news is that 5-star plans aren’t available everywhere. To find out if there’s one in your area, go to the Medicare Plan Finder, enter your ZIP code, and follow the prompts to get to a list of available plans, then sort by star rating. Or call your friendly SHIP counselor.
3. Drop the Advantage plan you signed up for when you first enrolled in Medicare Part B.
This is a one-time-only offer. If you signed up for an Advantage plan right away when you enrolled in Medicare, you can drop it within the first 12 months and buy a Medigap plan without fear of getting charged extra or being turned down because of a pre-existing condition.
Nancy Metcalf is an award-winning independent journalist specializing in health topics. A senior writer and editor for Consumer Reports for more than 25 years, she is a nationally recognized expert on health insurance and health reform.