The Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period (MADP) runs from January 1 through February 14, 2012.

During that time, people enrolled in Medicare Advantage have the opportunity to cancel their Medicare Advantage plan if they find it’s not fitting their needs. Those who do elect to drop a Medicare Advantage plan will be placed back on “Original Medicare” and have the option to enroll in a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan (PDP), so that they don’t have a lapse in drug coverage.

If you’re considering taking advantage of the ADP, take care to avoid gaps in coverage. Here are few important pieces of advice I’d encourage people to consider:

  1. Know the gaps in Original Medicare (Parts A and B): Similar to Medicare Advantage, original Medicare (Parts A and B) has deductibles and coinsurance. But, unlike Medicare Advantage, Original Medicare doesn’t have a cap on how much you may have to spend out of your own pocket each year if you get sick or injured. Per the 2010 health care reform law, all Medicare Advantage plans must place a $6,700 limit on what you can be asked to spend out of your own pocket for covered medical services (some have lower caps). And, original Medicare does not cover the cost of prescription drugs.
  2. Before you wreck it, check it: I encourage people to make a checklist of benefits they want to keep before they drop a Medicare Advantage plan. For example, be sure your doctor will see you if you change from private Medicare Advantage insurance to basic Medicare. And, be sure affordable prescription drug coverage is available through a stand-alone Medicare Part D plan that will cover the specific drugs you take at a reasonably low price.

  3. Look into Medicare Supplements– If you’re going with Medicare Parts A and B, you may want to look into augmenting it with a Medicare Supplement plan. Most states have 10 Medicare Supplement plan types: A, B, C, D, F, G, K, L, M and N (some plans types are not available in all areas). Each plan type must have the exact same level of supplemental coverage, so an F plan from one company must legally provide the same level of coverage as an F plan from another insurer. You can compare plans side-by-side at PlanPrescriber.com. If you’re canceling your Medicare Advantage plan, Medicare Supplement may be a good alternative. NOTE: After your first three months on Medicare Part B, Medicare Supplement plans are medically underwritten, which means some people may not qualify. 
  4. Don’t lose additional benefits: Some Medicare Advantage plans provide routine dental and vision coverage, which original Medicare does not. And, Medicare Supplement plans do not typically provide these services either. So, if you drop Medicare Advantage, during the ADP you may need to purchase stand-alone coverage for routine vision and dental care. Web sites like eHealthInsurance.com allow you to research and compare those types of policies side-by-side.

If you follow my tips, you should be well prepared for the ADP.

Other recommendations: Don’t stop at Medicare. There are an increasing number of insurance products not related to Medicare that people are starting to consider and take advantage of. Accident and critical illness policies are now available in many states. When you have a claim, these plans give you money directly and you can use it your discretion. These aren’t comprehensive insurance products, but they can help you pay for deductibles, coinsurance, rent or groceries if you have a major claim.

Ross Blair is the founder and chief executive officer of PlanPrescriber.com, a website that makes it easier for seniors and their caregivers to select and enroll in the best Medicare products for their specific needs. A trained engineer who has spent his career developing technology-based solutions for complex problems, he has applied more than 26 years of technology experience to develop PlanPrescriber.com. PlanPrescriber’s decision support tools make it easier for seniors to optimize their health coverage through Medicare. In his role as CEO, Ross has worked closely with pharmacists, insurers, physicians, caregivers and seniors to identify the most critical and complex aspects of Medicare and create a system that delivers this information to consumers in a format that is both easy to use and understand. Ross holds an engineering degree from Tufts University and a master’s degree in business administration from Northeastern University. As an advocate for Medicare beneficiaries, he has been interviewed nationally on topics that help beneficiaries and caregivers better navigate the confusing spiral of Medicare options.