Unlike in previous years, in 2019 people enrolled in Medicare ­Advantage health insurance plans have the entire first quarter—until March 31—to switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan. They also can switch from Medicare Advantage to original Medicare (plus a Part D prescription drug plan and a Medicare supplement plan). In past years, these changes couldn’t be made after December 7. If you do make a change, it will take effect at the start of the following month.

More than one-third of Medicare enrollees now are in Medicare Advantage plans—which are alternatives to original Medicare plans and are offered by private health insurance companies. The new, extended switching period provides extra time for participants to reconsider their choices for 2019—perhaps the Medicare Advantage plan they originally chose has left them with more out-of-pocket expenses than expected…or dropped a preferred doctor from its network…or reduced coverage for a needed medication…or they simply became aware of a more attractive plan.

This switching period is for current Medicare Advantage enrollees only, however. People currently enrolled in original Medicare cannot switch to a Medicare Advantage plan or change Medicare Part D plans until the open-enrollment period that runs from ­October 15 through December 7.

What to do: Consider whether your current Medicare Advantage plan has covered your health-care expenses as well as you expected so far this year…whether your providers are still in network…and whether your health-care needs have changed since you selected this plan. If you are not confident that you’re currently in the best plan for you, review your alternatives before the end of March using online tools such as Medicare.gov or ­eHealth’s eHealthMedicare.com website and/or by contacting an independent insurance agent licensed to sell Medicare Advantage plans.­

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