What is a Medicare Supplement plan?
A Medicare Supplement plan is a health insurance plan offered by an insurance company that can be used to cover costs and gaps not covered by traditional Medicare. This type of plan is also known as a Medigap plan.
If you purchase a Medicare Supplement plan, you will pay a monthly premium to the insurance company. What that MediGap plan covers will depend on which type of plan you choose.
As of 2019, there are 10 types of Supplement plans Opens in new window, each labeled by a specific letter — each plan offers a different combination of benefits for a particular price. For example, Medicare Supplement A plans don't cover the hospital deductible, while Medicare Supplement B plans do, but the added coverage also comes with a higher premium.
What is a Medicare Advantage plan?
A Medicare Advantage plan, also called a Part C plan, is Medicare operated by a health insurance company. Medicare Advantage covers the mandated Medicare Part A and B (hospital and non-hospital medical services and supplies), possible supplemental benefits and often, pharmacy benefits (Medicare Part D). The supplemental benefits that are offered are determined by the insurance company and each Medicare Advantage plan will be a little different.
Most people become eligible for Medicare when they turn 65. You may enroll in either traditional Medicare or Medicare Advantage three months prior to turning 65, but you will not be able to receive benefits until you are actually 65. If you choose to enroll in traditional Medicare, you also chose to enroll in a Medicare Supplemental plan. The open enrollment period for Medicare Supplement plans Opens in new window lasts for the first six months after you turn 65 (and have enrolled in traditional Medicare).
For Medicare Advantage plans, the initial enrollment period lasts for the first three months before you turn 65 Opens in new window, the month you turn 65 and the three months afterward, for a total of seven months. If you also have Medicaid, you are known as a “dual eligible” and can enroll in Medicare Advantage at any time.
Enrollment becomes more complicated for Medicare Supplemental policies if you miss the open enrollment period. Private insurance companies aren't required to sell you Medicare Supplement plans past this point, and if you have health issues, insurers could deny selling you a policy altogether. For Medicare Advantage there is an open enrollment period each year Opens in new window, from October 15 to December 7, and you cannot be denied based on your medical history.