December 20, 2016
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by John Greene

On Tuesday, December 13, President Obama signed into law H.R. 34, the 21st Century Cures Act, following the bill’s passage in Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support, with the U.S. Senate voting 94-5 and the U.S. House of Representatives voting 392-26. The $6.3 billion legislation includes language from H.R. 588 to restore the Medicare open enrollment period (OEP), which NAHU and members of our Senior Issues and Medicare Advisory Group helped to draft. The Medicare OEP will be reestablished effective January 1, 2019.

The OEP provision of the legislation (Sec. 17005, Preservation of Medicare beneficiary choice under Medicare Advantage) addresses a needed change to restore an option that was taken away by the ACA. Beneficiaries enrolled in a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan used to be able to make a one-time switch to another MA plan that better met their healthcare needs between January and March. Under the ACA, beneficiaries enrolled in MA plans who wish to make a plan change only have one option—disenrolling from their MA plan to enroll in traditional Medicare. As a result, low-income beneficiaries may experience significant gaps in coverage, leaving vulnerable seniors unable to afford a supplement or Medigap plan to cover these gaps.

The 21st Century Cures Act provides for MA eligible individuals to make a one-time change during the first three months of any year to another MA plan, elect original Medicare fee-for-service program, or to elect coverage under part D. This provision will be effective beginning in 2019. NAHU worked with Representatives Keith Rothfus (R-PA-12) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR-5) as the primary sponsors of the original legislation. Language from the bill had been passed by the House Ways and Means Committee in June 2015, but that language was later stripped from the bill’s final passage by the House chamber, before ultimately being included in the 21st Century Cures Act.

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