Switching Medigap Plans: A Complete Guide
Switching your Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plan is fairly easy, but knowing whether you should switch to another Medigap plan or keep your current one is a different story. Factor in the crucial element of switching at the right time, and you’ve got some research to do before you actually change your Medigap plan.
But don’t let that discourage you. This guide will explain step by step whether you should consider switching, when you should switch, and how to change your Medigap plan.
Should I switch my Medigap plan?
Whether or not you should switch your Medicare Supplement plan is up to you. Keep in mind, if medical underwriting will factor into your new Medigap policy, that could also affect your decision.
There are generally four situations where it might make sense to change your Medicare Supplement coverage:
1. You want a Medigap plan that provides greater coverage.
During enrollment, you take your best guess regarding your coverage needs. Sometimes you learn that you underestimated the Medigap benefits you’d need down the line.
2. Your current Medigap plan provides benefits you don’t use.
While some people underestimate their coverage needs during enrollment, others overestimate it. Sometimes, the Cadillac plan doesn’t make sense if you’re not using all the benefits, and downsizing to a simpler plan can lower your costs.
3. Your Medigap premiums are too high.
Insurance companies don’t lock your Medicare Supplement premiums, so sometimes the costs can become prohibitively high. Switching plans or companies could save you money.
4. You want to switch Medigap insurance companies.
Perhaps you feel like your company misled you or you’re unhappy with the service, so you’d like to enroll with another company.
To avoid an insurance company using medical underwriting when you switch a policy, you’ll want to switch when you have Medigap protections. More on that below.
When can I change my Medicare Supplement plan?
You can technically change Medicare Supplement plans anytime you’d like, but unless you have Medigap protections (also called guaranteed issue rights), switching plans may not work out so well.
Medigap protections are available during Medigap Open Enrollment (and in other specific situations listed below). Without these protections, insurance companies are allowed to charge you more for a plan, exclude certain health conditions from your coverage, or refuse to sell you a policy altogether—all based on your health history.
Heads up to residents of New York, Connecticut, Maryland, or Maine: You have permanent Medigap protections after you turn 65. You can switch your Medicare Supplement plan whenever you’d like without experiencing a medicare penalty.
For everyone else, there is an optimal time to switch your Medigap coverage.
The best time to switch Medigap plans
The best time to switch your Medicare Supplement plan is during the Medigap Open Enrollment Period.
Your Medigap Open Enrollment Period starts when you enroll in Medicare Part B and lasts for six months. During this time you have guaranteed issue rights, which means you can enroll in any Medigap policy available in your state without medical underwriting. You can also switch to another plan without an insurance company factoring your health into the policy issuance.
Other good times to change Medicare Supplement plans
For people with preexisting health conditions, Medigap Open Enrollment is the optimal time to get a policy. However, there are other special circumstances when you are granted guaranteed issue rights outside of your Medigap Open Enrollment Period:
- You’re enrolled in Medicare Advantage and you move outside your plan's coverage area.
- You’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan that’s being discontinued by your insurance company.
- You joined a Medicare Advantage plan when you became eligible for Medicare—but you want to switch back to Original Medicare less than a year after enrolling in Medicare Advantage. This is called a “trial right.”
- You dropped your Medicare Supplement plan to join a Medicare Advantage plan but decided to switch back less than a year after enrollment. This is also called a “trial right.”
- You have Medicare SELECT and move outside your SELECT plan network area.
- You’re enrolled in Original Medicare and have health insurance through COBRA, your employer, retiree benefits, or a union that pays secondary to Medicare, and your secondary coverage is ending.
- The insurance company that provides your Medicare Supplement plan goes out of business and you lose your coverage (or any other situation for which you're not at fault but you lose your coverage).
- You end your Medigap policy or your Medicare Advantage plan because the insurance company deceived you or broke Medicare’s rules.
If any of these situations apply, you have automatic guaranteed issue rights to purchase a Medigap plan. Keep in mind that the Medigap protections don't last as long as they did during your Medigap Open Enrollment—you have only 63 days to find a new guaranteed issue policy. If you wait any longer, insurance companies are allowed to use medical underwriting—meaning they can charge you more, exclude health conditions from coverage, or refuse to cover you for a new policy.
What is the “free look period”?
When switching to a new Medicare Supplement plan, you have a free look period, which gives you 30 days to decide if you want a new policy. Your free look period begins the day your new policy takes effect.
How do I switch Medicare Supplement plans?
Find a new Medicare Supplement plan in your area through the Medicare.gov plan finder or an insurance company’s website. You can call to enroll. Just remember: try to do it when you have guaranteed issue rights.
If you switch to a new Medigap policy, don’t cancel your old one. During the free look period, keep your old and new policy in force by paying both premiums. Once you’re sure the new policy is the best choice for you, then you can cancel your old one. If the new policy doesn’t suit you, you can cancel it before 30 days is up without penalty.
Medicare Supplement overview
Medicare Supplement plans (also called Medigap plans) are supplemental health insurance plans you can add to your Original Medicare coverage. Medicare Supplement plans help cover costs that Medicare doesn’t, such as deductibles, copays, coinsurance, health care while traveling abroad, etc. Private insurance companies sell Medigap plans in exchange for monthly premiums.
There are 10 Medicare Supplement plans. The availability of each plan depends on your location and (for Plan F and C) when you were eligible for Medicare. Premiums will vary by company and plan but, in general, the more benefits a Medigap plan covers, the higher its premiums will be.
You can purchase a Medicare Supplement plan only when you already have Original Medicare or are switching to Original Medicare. Medicare Supplement insurance doesn’t work with Medicare Advantage.
For more details on Medicare Supplement and a description of the benefits covered by each plan, see our Medicare Supplement guide.
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