AUSTIN Once a year, Medicare recipients have a window of about a month and a half to alter their coverage during "open enrollment." The dates of the period are different this year, and AARP Texas spokesman Rafael Ayuso worries that many beneficiaries might not yet realize their window of opportunity is nearly closed.

"For many years it's been mid-November to the end of December, but this year it was changed from October 15th to December 7th. And a lot of people are not aware that. Wednesday, December 7th, is the last day they have to make changes."

He says this is the time to switch between Medicare Advantage and original Medicare, or to join or drop a Medicare prescription drug plan.

By some estimates, two-thirds of those on Medicare could save money in 2012 by changing plans now.

"A wise consumer shops around, and very often you do save money. So, we do encourage the folks to look at each plan carefully, to keep costs in mind."

Ayuso notes that each plan can change year to year, so even people who don't intend to switch would do well to review their coverage. The AARP website provides comparisons of premiums, deductibles, drug plans, and quality ratings.

Medicare provides a Plan Finder at Medicare.Gov, while individual counseling is available through the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP).

AARP's information page is The Medicare Plan Finder is at

Medicare provides special assistance for those considering Medicare Advantage and prescription drug plans at 1-800-633-4227.

SHIP counselors are available through