Here’s how to make sure you sign up for the right Medicare health plan this fall.

3 minute read

Whether you need to sign up for Medicare or are already enrolled in a Medicare health plan, you join or make changes during the Medicare open enrollment period each year from October 15 to December 7 each year. During Medicare open enrollment, you’re allowed to join a Medicare health plan, add or change a Medicare Advantage Plan or join, switch or drop a Medicare prescription drug plan.

Not understanding how Medicare open enrollment works could leave you without the health insurance coverage you need or delay the effective date of your coverage in 2022.

Here are four Medicare open enrollment mistakes to avoid this fall.

Skipping open enrollment

If you want to join a Medicare plan, change plans or add a prescription drug plan and ignore the Medicare open enrollment period, you may have to wait until January 2022 or later for another chance. That’s because you’re allowed to join Medicare or make changes only during certain open enrollment periods.

When you first become eligible for Medicare, there is an initial enrollment period to join a Medicare plan. The initial enrollment period spans seven months, including the three months leading to your 65th birthday, the month of your birthday and the three following months. Medicare also has the general open enrollment period each fall from October 15 to December 7.  If you missed your initial enrollment period, you can still enroll in Medicare during the fall.

There’s also another enrollment period, Medicare Advantage open enrollment from January 1 to March 31. However, unless you’re already enrolled in a Medicare health plan, you’re not allowed to enroll in Original Medicare during that time. During this enrollment period, you can only change from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan or vice versa, switch to another Medicare Advantage Plan or join, switch or drop a Medicare drug plan.

Find out: 8 Things to Know About Medicare Open Enrollment

Missing the open enrollment deadline

If you’re a procrastinator who turns things in at the eleventh hour, that bad habit could wreck your 2022 Medicare coverage plans. That’s because if you wait to enroll in a Medicare health plan at the end of that period and the insurance provider doesn’t receive your request by December 7, 2021, your coverage could be delayed, not beginning on January 1, 2022, the date Medicare plans take effect after Medicare open enrollment.

Find out: Don’t Be Fooled By These 4 Medicare Scams

Not reviewing your current coverage

If you have a Medicare prescription drug plan or a Medicare Advantage Plan, a “bundled” health plan that includes Original Medicare Part A (hospital insurance), Part B (medical insurance) and usually a Part D Medicare prescription drug plan, and do nothing during open enrollment, those plans will renew automatically on January 1, 2022. However, it’s a good idea to review your current Medicare health plans rather than simply letting them renew automatically.

For one thing, insurance companies review their health plans every year and could change the plan’s benefits, premiums and deductibles for 2022. With some comparison shopping on the Medicare Plan Finder, you may also find a Medicare Advantage, Part D drug plan or Medigap supplement plan that better serves your medical needs.

Find out: 8 Things to Know About Buying a Medicare Supplement Plan

Not watching for Medicare information in the mail

As Medicare open enrollment nears, you’ll likely receive information from Medicare and the private insurance provider for your Medicare Advantage or Medicare drug plan. Your health plan insurer will send what’s known as a plan “Annual Notice of Change” (ANOC) each fall, informing you of any changes in coverage, cost or service areas. Don’t set that notice aside without reading it carefully, since changes could prompt you to shop for a different plan.

Every September, Medicare sends a copy of the “Medicare & You” handbook in the mail to all Medicare recipients. You can also sign up to download the book electronically. Make sure you review the Medicare & You handbook, which includes a summary of Medicare benefits, rights and protections. The handbook also lists available health and drug plans and includes FAQs to common questions about Medicare.

Find out: 5 Medicare Myths About Long-Term Care

What if I don’t need to change my Medicare health plan?

If you don’t want to make changes or add or drop coverage to your current Medicare health plan, you won’t need to do anything during Medicare open enrollment. Even so, you may still benefit from comparing Part D drug plans, Medicare Advantage Plans or Medigap supplement plans to make sure you’re enrolled in the right Medicare health plan for your needs.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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