Do Medicare Beneficiaries Have to Renew Medicare?
The short answer is no. Once you sign up for Medicare’s various parts and continue to pay its bills, if you are happy with your coverage and you haven’t received a notice that some aspect of it is ending, Medicare is likely to chug along unattended.
But there are some circumstances when that’s not true. Different parts of Medicare have different rules. It pays to read the notices you receive from Medicare and its providers so you don’t miss out on information about your plans that you need to know to stay insured.
Do You Need to Renew Medicare Part A?
For most people, Medicare Part A hospital insurance is premium-free and once you have it, you won’t have to do anything to keep it. If you are already getting Social Security when you turn 65, you’ll be enrolled automatically. If you aren’t getting Social Security, you can use Social Security’s website to enroll.
There are a few good reasons not to sign up for Medicare Part A hospital insurance when you turn 65. Most of them are related to having insurance from your employer or spouse’s employer. Before you reject Part A, talk to a benefits counselor for your employer and make sure you understand that you are doing the right thing for you. If your situation changes and you want to enroll in Part A, do it cautiously but quickly. You can get more information to help you understand Part A rules and how they affect you.1
Do You Need to Renew Medicare Part B every year?
As long as you pay the Medicare Part B medical insurance premiums, you’ll continue to have the coverage. The premium is subtracted monthly from most people’s Social Security payments. If you don’t get Social Security, you’ll get a bill. If you fail to pay the bill three months in a row, you’ll get a cancellation notice. At that point, it’s not too late to pay up. But if you go a couple of weeks longer without paying, you’ll be cut off. You can have Part B reinstated during the general enrollment period each January through March, but you’ll probably be charged a penalty.2
Introduction to Medicare’s Moving Parts
Whether you are about to enroll in Medicare or you have been enrolled for a long time, here is some essential information that will be part of any consideration about changing or updating your Medicare.
There are two types of Medicare:
- Original Medicare includes Part A and Part B. For drug coverage, you join a Medicare prescription drug plan (Part D). To pay additional costs, which can mount up quickly, most people buy a Medicare Supplement plan (also known as a Medigap policy).
- Medicare Advantage, otherwise known as Medicare Part C, is an all-in Medicare health plan operated by private companies that contract with Medicare to provide Part A and Part B benefits – and usually, but not always, prescription drug coverage.
Which plan you choose affects many things going forward, including how your Medicare works, what it pays for, and how easy or hard it is to switch things around.
One of the best places to learn about Medicare is Medicare.gov, the government’s information site. In order to get accurate information, you must create an account. Once you’ve done that, you can tailor your results. The site doesn’t give you help making a decision about what is best for you, but it does offer plenty of personalized details to guide your decision making.
Do You Have to Renew Original Medicare with a Medigap Policy?
You never can be forced to leave Original Medicare, and once you have selected a Medigap policy, you can keep it as long as you pay for it on time. You also can keep the plan you have if you move to some other part of the country. Newly-eligible beneficiaries can no longer enroll in Plan C or Plan F; anyone who signed up beforehand can continue to keep them.
But there may be circumstances when you would like to change your Medigap policy or are forced to change. For instance:3
- You’re losing your Medigap coverage because the company that issues it is no longer in business.
- You would like to switch Medigap policies for better or more suitable coverage.
If you buy a Medigap policy when you first sign up for Original Medicare, the insurance company can’t refuse to accept you or consider your health when it prices the plan. In the insurance business, those considerations are called underwriting. If you are forced to switch Medigap policies, you’ll have the right to choose another one without underwriting. But if you are just shopping for a plan you like better, you may face underwriting and could be rejected altogether. Don’t cancel your first Medigap policy until you are accepted for another one and you know what the price will be.
Do You Have to Renew Medicare Advantage?
You will be automatically re-enrolled in your Medicare Advantage plan annually – unless the company that provides your plan stops offering it. Then you’ll get a chance to buy a different one during the annual Open Enrollment Period from October 15 to December 7. There is also a Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period from January 1 to March 31. During both those periods, you’ll also be able to switch Medicare Advantage plans even if it’s just because you don’t like the Advantage plan you have, or you are looking for more benefits or lower cost. Once you enroll in a new plan, you will be automatically disenrolled from the old one.4
Do You Need to Renew Medicare Part D Annually?
If you have Medicare Part D, one of the smartest things you can do is shop around during the fall open enrollment from October 15 to December 7. In most parts of the country, there are dozens of available Part D plans with different formularies, pricing, and coverage rules. Medicare enrollees in Original and some Advantage plans can check the plans’ networks of retail and mail-order pharmacies serving their area to find the ones that have the best deals for all the drugs they take. If you aren’t enrolled in Medicare.gov’s site for comparing plans, do that first. Then plug in the information about your prescriptions. You’ll see an elaborate chart that will allow you to compare prices and availability. Run the comparison at least annually because things change regularly.
Don’t Be Afraid of Change; Change Can Be Good
It is easy to be complacent about Medicare coverage, especially if your favorite doctors accept it and you aren’t faced with many big bills. But don’t take for granted that there isn’t something better. Medicare is a big program with lots of options.
A Medicare insurance broker is an independent agent who represents many insurance companies. A broker will work with you to find the options for you. Working with a broker doesn’t cost you any money. Find one you like and trust. Tell them about your medical issues and allow that person to analyze your coverage and maybe help you find something better.