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Get a Head Start on 2019's Medicare Open Enrollment

In mid-October, you'll have a chance to make key changes to your healthcare coverage under Medicare.

Most Americans turn to Medicare after their 65th birthdays to give them the assistance they need to cover their healthcare expenses. With estimates of total lifetime medical costs for retired couples soaring toward the $300,000 mark, you can't afford not to make the most of the Medicare benefits to which you're entitled.

Every year, Medicare gives its participants the chance to make key changes to their coverage during the annual open enrollment period. With a start date of Oct. 15, it's smart to take the time now to prepare yourself for the choices you'll have once open enrollment begins. That way, you'll be in the best position possible to use open enrollment to get more value out of your Medicare coverage.

Here's some basic information about how Medicare open enrollment works, along with some tips to help you figure out the best way to navigate it.

What Medicare open enrollment's for

The general way that open enrollment works is similar to what those who've had private employer-based health insurance coverage during their careers are used to seeing. Each year, you're given the opportunity to adjust the way that you're covered under Medicare. The available changes include the following:

  • If you're covered under traditional Medicare this year, then you can move to a Medicare Advantage plan for next year.
  • If you're covered under a Medicare Advantage plan this year, you can either change to a different Medicare Advantage plan, or you can move back to traditional Medicare coverage.
  • You can make changes to your prescription drug coverage, either by choosing a Medicare Advantage plan that incorporates prescription drug benefits into its overall package or by selecting a separately offered Part D prescription drug plan. You can also drop your existing drug coverage or add new coverage.

How long Medicare open enrollment lasts

Medicare open enrollment gives participants about a seven-week window to make changes, with the period beginning Oct. 15 and ending Dec. 7. Changes to your coverage that you make during this year's open enrollment will take effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

The annual open enrollment period is the primary method most Medicare participants have to make changes to their coverage, but it's not the only one. Other special periods apply when certain life events happen, such as if you move to a new area where your current plan doesn't offer coverage or if you become eligible for other benefits such as Medicaid.