Most Beneficiaries Stay With Their Current Medicare Plan, Even During AEP

The Medicare Annual Enrollment Period is a time when beneficiaries may be able to switch Medicare plans. But according to a recent study, very few voluntarily change their plans each year.

Published Jan. 22, 2020

The Medicare Annual Enrollment Period (AEP, also known as the fall open enrollment period) is period when many beneficiaries may be able to switch their Medicare coverage. But some recent data suggests that very few seniors actually do so. 

A study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that only a small minority of Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D prescription drug plan members voluntarily switched plans during the annual enrollment period.1

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From 2007 to 2016, the number of beneficiaries with an MA-PD (Medicare Advantage plan that includes prescription drug coverage) who voluntarily switched plans during AEP in a given year ranged from 6 percent to 11 percent. This despite the fact that Medicare Advantage plans have been able to offer more potential benefits each year and that plan premiums continue to drop. 

The data for Medicare Part D prescription drug plan members was not much different. The annual rate of Part D plan switching during AEP between 2007 and 2016 ranged from 10 percent to 13 percent.  

Medicare Advantage (Medicare Part C) plans provide all the same benefits as Original Medicare (Part A and Part B), and many plans may offer additional benefits that Original Medicare doesn’t cover. The extra coverage that some Medicare Advantage plans may offer can include things like dental, vision, prescription drugs, gym memberships, allowances for hearing aids and more. 

Medicare Part D provides coverage exclusively for prescription drugs. 

During AEP, which runs from October 15 to December 7 each year, Medicare beneficiaries may be able to add, drop or switch their Medicare plan coverage. 

Reasons for not switching Medicare plans during AEP

As the study authors note, there may be a few reasons why many beneficiaries don’t often switch Medicare plans during AEP: 

  • They may be happy with their current Medicare plan.
  • They may feel like it’s too much of a hassle or too complicated to switch.
  • They may be unaware that plan quality, selection and pricing can change annually.
  • They might think AEP is only for new Medicare enrollees and may be unaware that current beneficiaries may also be able to make enrollment changes during this period.

Plan selection varies by location, so some beneficiaries may have more Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D policies from which to choose than others. 

How beneficiaries can switch Medicare plans

One important aspect of taking advantage of AEP for many seniors is comparing coverage. Beneficiaries have much to consider, such as premiums, deductibles, coinsurance or copayments, benefits, networks and more.

These detailed considerations can prove difficult for many beneficiaries, especially those who have cognitive impairments or more serious health needs. 

One way Medicare beneficiaries can get help getting a detailed comparison of their Medicare plan options is to work with a licensed insurance agent. A licensed agent can help beneficiaries review all of the available plans in their area and go over the costs and coverage of each one while answering questions in real time.

Beneficiaries can also compare Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D prescription drug plans available in their area online. An online plan comparison can help seniors compare plans while considering factors such as their prescription drugs, the pharmacies they use, who their doctors are and more.

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About the author

Christian Worstell is a licensed insurance agent and a Senior Staff Writer for He is passionate about helping people navigate the complexities of Medicare and understand their coverage options.

His work has been featured in outlets such as Vox, MSN, and The Washington Post, and he is a frequent contributor to health care and finance blogs.

Christian is a graduate of Shippensburg University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He currently lives in Raleigh, NC.

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