The great Satchel Page, who played professional baseball until age 59, once asked: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”

There’s no doubt many of us remain young at heart throughout our lives. Unfortunately, our bodies follow a different script: In retirement, we can count on our healthcare needs changing. Fortunately, Medicare’s annual open enrollment period – known as the annual election period – allows us to adjust our coverage to suit our needs.

Between October 15 and December 7, you can change from original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan, or vice versa. You can switch from one Medicare Advantage Plan to another. You can drop a Medicare Advantage Plan that doesn’t offer drug coverage in favor of one that does, or vice versa.

You can also join a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan, or switch from one kind of plan to another. You can even terminate your Medicare Prescription Drug plan.

It’s common for retirees to change their plans, based on changes in their lives. Frequently, for example, our medications change, or we are diagnosed with a new condition.

What’s more, Medicare plans themselves can and do change. You might have found your current plan’s costs increasing or decreasing. Certain prescription drugs may be been added or dropped from your plan’s formulary (list of covered drugs). At times, Medicare plans have changed their available benefits or dropped coverage altogether for a particular geographic area.

If your current Medicare plan is no longer satisfying your needs for any one of these reasons, it may be time for some comparison shopping. Bear in mind that any new Medicare options you choose won’t go into effect until the first day of the new year.

And just to be clear, Medicare open enrollment is different from Medicare’s Initial Enrollment Period. That’s the period during which you first sign up for Medicare, and when you can join Medicare parts A, B, C and D.

Initial enrollment is based on your birthday rather than the calendar. You can enroll in Medicare at any point during a seven-month span: The three months before your 65th birthday month, the month of your birthday itself, and the three months following your birthday month.

To begin researching the Medicare options available in your area, we suggest visiting www.Medicare.gov. You can also call
1-800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227).