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Medicare

Understanding the Medicare Free-Look Period

A change in your life may cause you to consider changing your Medigap policy. The Medicare Supplement free-look period allows you to have both your old and new policies active for a limited time before making your final decision on which to keep. Learn how to take advantage of this feature to try out a new policy.

Medicare Free Look

Medicare offers affordable healthcare services to those over 65 or with qualifying circumstances. However, it’s not without some out-of-pocket costs. Purchasing a Medicare Supplement Plan, also known as a Medigap policy, can help you cover the costs of deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance.

There are multiple Medigap plans to choose from, and each offers different coverage. You may have considered switching your Medigap plan but worry about being stuck with a plan you don’t like as much as the plan you started with. Luckily, the Medicare Supplement free-look period allows you to keep both plans for a limited period, so you can take the time to compare them and decide which plan is right for you.  

The following guide explains how the Medigap free-look period works and how you can safely explore changing your plan.

How Does the Medicare Supplement ‘Free-Look’ Period Work?

While utilizing Medicare, you are allowed one active Medigap policy at a time. However, during the Medicare Supplement policy free-look period, you can keep both your old policy and your new policy in place for up to 30 days. This gives you a chance to experience how the new policy works without canceling the policy you already had in place. If you change your mind, you can cancel the new policy and keep your old coverage without interruption. 

During the free-look period, you must pay both policy premiums and decide before the 30 days have passed. When you sign up for your new Medigap policy, you must affirm that you intend to cancel one policy before you are outside the free-look period. 

It’s also important to note that the free-look period only applies to Medigap policies, not to Medicare Advantage or Original Medicare.

What Can You Do During the Free-Look Period?

During your free-look period, you have access to the benefits offered by both policies until you decide to cancel one of them. This allows you to compare both plans in a real-life scenario to ensure you’re happy with the new plan before committing to it for the future.

For example, you may have started with a Medigap Plan A but decided that you’re going to start traveling overseas. Medigap Plan N covers the same benefits as Plan A but offers coverage for 80% of foreign travel health expenses. This additional benefit may trigger you to consider making a change. 

If you want to try out Plan N but aren’t sure the change is right for you, the Medicare Supplement free-look period allows you to try it out for up to 30 days without losing your current coverage. When the 30 days are up, you must cancel one of the policies.

When Can You Trigger Your Medigap Free-Look Period?  

During specific periods, Medicare-eligible individuals have what’s known as Guaranteed Issue Rights for Medigap Protection. During this time, insurance companies must offer to sell you a Medigap policy. They must also cover your pre-existing conditions and cannot charge you more for your policy due to your health history.

Typically, the guaranteed-issue period begins when other healthcare coverage you have in place changes in some way. For example, this may occur if your current Medicare Advantage plan is no longer servicing your area, you move out of a service area, or if you have Original Medicare and your employer group coverage is being terminated.

Suppose you are within the guaranteed-issue period, within your 6-month Medigap open enrollment period, or you’re eligible under other specific circumstances. In that case, you can switch plans and take advantage of the free-look period.

You may also be able to switch plans outside of these periods. However, in this case, acceptance into the program is not guaranteed. You may need to undergo medical underwriting process, and your application may be denied. If accepted, the free-look period for Medicare Supplement policies still applies. 

Why Should You Consider Changing Medigap Plans?  

If your life circumstances change, you may find that the Medigap policy you currently have no longer meets your needs or that a different policy may be a better fit.

For example, you may find that you’re paying for benefits you don’t need with your current plan. You may also change plans because you want a policy that costs less or you want more benefits. Sometimes, people switch plans because they want coverage with a different insurance company.

Depending on when you become eligible for Medicare and where you live, you may have access to 10 different Medigap plans. Each plan may have different premiums and different coverage. Depending on your needs, you may look for a plan that covers skilled nursing facility care coinsurance, foreign travel, Part A deductibles, or other relevant costs. Some plans also offer annual out-of-pocket limits. If you have changes to your health, lifestyle, or other circumstances, it may trigger you to consider changing your Medigap plan. 

Your Medigap Plan Options

Medicare Supplement policies are required to follow both state and federal laws. Medigap policies are standardized and identified by a letter in many states. However, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Massachusetts standardize and identify Medigap policies differently. Insurance companies can decide which policies they want to sell. However, if a company offers any Medigap policy, it must offer plan A. State laws may also limit which policies a company can sell.

While each policy offers the same essential benefits, some offer additional benefits and some cover costs at a different percentage rate. For example, Plans A and B do not cover skilled nursing facility care coinsurance or foreign travel exchange. Plans K and L offer a lower percentage of coverage for several types of expenses but have an annual out-of-pocket maximum.

When looking for a new Medigap plan or considering switching plans, it’s essential to understand the similarities and differences in the coverage offered by each policy option. The table below shows the key features and differences for each plan.

BenefitsPlan APlan BPlan CPlan DPlan FPlan GPlan
K
Plan
L
Plan MPlan N
Part A coinsurance and hospital costs for up to 365 additional days after Medicare benefits are disbursedYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
Part B coinsurance or copaymentYesYesYesYesYesYes50%75%Yes100% coinsurance; but copays may still apply
Part A hospice care coinsurance or copaymentYesYesYesYesYesYes50%75%YesYes
Part A deductibleNot coveredYesYesYesYesYes50%75%50%​Yes
Part B deductibleNot coveredNot coveredYesNot coveredYesNot coveredNot coveredNot coveredNot coveredNot covered
Part B excess chargeNot coveredNot coveredNot coveredNot coveredYes100%Not coveredNot coveredNot coveredNot covered
Out-of-pocket limitN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A$6,940 in 2023$3,470 in 2023N/AN/A
Blood (first three pints)YesYesYesYesYesYes50%75%YesYes
Skilled nursing facility care coinsuranceNot coveredNot coveredYesYesYesYes50%75%YesYes
Foreign travel exchange up to plan limitsNot coveredNot covered80%80%80%80%Not coveredNot covered80%80%
Source: Medicare.gov; accessed December 2022