October 6, 2016
Yes. The Medicare Advantage program (also known as Medicare Part C) provides the means for Medicare beneficiaries to receive Medicare Part A and Part B benefits from a Medicare Advantage plan rather than from the government-administered Medicare program. Medicare Advantage doesn’t replace Original Medicare Part A and Part B coverage; it simply delivers these benefits through an alternative channel: private insurance companies. Medicare Advantage plans are offered by private insurance companies that contract with Medicare. Medicare Advantage plans must offer at least the same benefits as provided under Medicare Part A and Part B (with the exception of hospice care, which continues to be covered by Part A). Many Medicare Advantage plans offer extra benefits not available from Original Medicare. Therefore, to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, you must be enrolled in both Medicare Part A and Part B. You must also reside in the plan’s service area.
The Initial Enrollment Period is the first chance you have to enroll in Original Medicare, Part A and/or Part B. Your Initial Enrollment Period starts three months before you first meet all the eligibility requirements for Medicare and lasts for seven months.
To enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, however, you have to be entitled to Medicare Part A and enrolled in Medicare Part B. This can occur simultaneously with the Initial Enrollment Period. You are likely to hear this enrollment period referred to as the Initial Coverage Election Period. This is the first time Medicare beneficiaries may enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan.
If you delayed enrollment in Medicare Part B because you lived abroad or had insurance coverage through an employer-sponsored group health plan, for example, you may enroll in Medicare Part B during a Special Election Period when you return to live in the United States or your group health coverage ends. You may be able to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan at this time, as well.
Finally, you may enroll in Medicare Advantage plan, change plans, or return to Original Medicare and, if you choose, sign up for a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan to work alongside your Part A and Part B coverage during the Annual Election Period (AEP), which occurs from October 15 to December 7 of each year.
Please note that you must continue paying your Medicare Part B premium, along with any premium your Medicare Advantage plan may charge.