Your Medicare Open Enrollment Guide

Healthcare, Living & Spending
on October 14, 2013

If you are nearing your 65th birthday, it’s definitely time to start thinking about enrolling in Medicare, the government’s health insurance for people 65 and older (as well as other people with certain disabilities). Or, if you’re already enrolled, you may want to make some changes to your plan.

Now’s your chance. Open enrollment runs October 15 through December 7 and offers you the opportunity to make changes to your health and prescription drug coverage—also known as Medicare Parts C and D—for the following year.

It’s important that you review your coverage and consider your options on an annual basis, keeping in mind your needs and the costs, notes Nicole Duritz, vice president for health education and outreach at AARP. Each year, you do have a chance to pick something new.

“But that can be a long year to live through if you haven’t made the right decision,” she says.

Even if you aren’t completely convinced you need to change anything, you might want to compare plans to see if you might be spending more than you need to, says Eric Maddux, senior Medicare advisor for

“There’s a lot of savings that can be discovered if users at least look at the options and look at what’s out there,” he says.

To help you be prepared for this year’s open enrollment period, we’ve rounded up some commonly asked questions and answers to help you be sure you’re signed up for the perfect coverage for you. 

1. What is Medicare Part C?

This refers to Medicare Advantage plans. When you are choosing which type of coverage you want, you can go with traditional Medicare (part A, which is hospital insurance, and part B, which is medical insurance), or you can go with an Advantage plan, which is a managed care model that blends parts A and B and usually part D.

2. What is Medicare Part D?

This is your prescription drug plan.

3. What exactly can I do during the open enrollment period?

You can switch from traditional Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan, or vice versa. You can also switch from one particular Medicare Advantage plan to another one—for example, you might want to switch from a plan without prescription drug coverage to one that does offer this benefit. You can also join a drug plan during this time, or switch from one to another.

4. Why should I review my prescription drug coverage?

Maddux notes that different plans cover different medications, so it’s worth checking out what your current plan covers. If it doesn’t cover all the meds you need to take, you may want to consider a different plan.

5. If I make a change to my plan during Open Enrollment, when does it take effect?

The changes kick in on January 1 of the following year. If you change to a new plan, you should get a new card before then, too, says Duritz.

6. Are there any other open enrollment periods during the year?

Yes, there’s a window from January 1 through March 31 when you can sign up for Part A and/or Part B, if you haven’t already. But be warned: you may be subject to a late enrollment higher premium if you didn’t register when you were initially eligible (the seven month window that begins three months before you turn 65). There’s also a disenrollment period from January 1 through February 14 when you can switch from a Medicare Advantage plan back to original Medicare.

Still have questions are aren’t sure where to turn? has a number of online resources that can help you. The AARP’s website is also a great resource offering an area specifically designed to help people with open enrollment; find it at You can also compare your prescription drug plan to others in your area with tools available on websites such as

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