One of the complications of Medicare is that you can only enroll in, change, or drop your Medicare plan during specific times throughout the year. These enrollment periods often do not apply to Medicare Supplement, or Medigap, plans as you can apply for these at any time. Here are the most important enrollment periods to know for Medicare.
Initial Enrollment Period
The Initial Enrollment Period for Medicare is the seven months surrounding your 65th birthday. This includes the three months before you turn 65, your birthday month, and the three months following your birthday. In this period, you can enroll in Original Medicare (Parts A and B), a Medicare Advantage plan (Part C), a Medicare Supplement plan, and/or a Prescription Drug plan (Part D). To learn more about the different parts of Medicare, read this article.
General Enrollment Period
The General Enrollment Period is every year from January 1 to March 31. During this time, you can enroll in Part A and/or Part B of Medicare. However, this is only if you did not sign up when you were initially eligible and you are not eligible for a Special Enrollment Period (see below). Coverage will start July 1 if you enroll during this period.
However, if you sign up during this time period, you will likely have to pay penalties for not signing up on time. These penalties will be added to your monthly premium for Part A and/or Part B for the rest of the time you are enrolled in Medicare. To learn more about penalties associated with Medicare, read this article.
Special Enrollment Period
A Special Enrollment Period (SEP) applies if you or your spouse work past your 65th birthday and you still have healthcare coverage from your employer. You will then qualify for a SEP that will be available while you are working and up to 8 months after employment has ended or your health coverage ends. During this period, you can sign up for Parts A and/or B or a Medicare Advantage plan. You will typically not pay late penalties if you enroll during a SEP. If you need more information on SEPs and working past 65, check out this article.
Annual Enrollment Period
During the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP), you can change your Medicare Advantage plan, switch to Original Medicare, enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan for the first time, or change your Part D plan. This time period is from October 15 to December 7. Learn more about why you might want to change plans here.
Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment/Disenrollment Period
The Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period is when you can drop your Medicare Advantage plan and pick up a Part D Prescription Drug plan. From January 1 to February 14, you can decide that you do not like the Medicare Advantage plan you are enrolled in and drop it. You cannot change to a new Medicare Advantage plan at this time, but you will still be enrolled in Original Medicare. If you do not have a Prescription Drug plan, you can pick one up after you drop your Medicare Advantage plan. However, if you already have a Prescription Drug plan, you cannot drop or change that plan during this time period.
If you decide to drop your Medicare Advantage plan, you will have Original Medicare (Parts A and B), which comes with different costs and benefits. For example, there is a deductible for both parts, a monthly premium usually only associated with Part B, and typically a 20% copay for Part B. It also does not come with Part D, which is why you can pick up a Part D Prescription Drug plan at this time. You will be able to pick up a Medicare Supplement plan at this time, but not all insurance companies accept applications at all times. For more information about Medicare Supplement plans, check out this article.
These enrollment times are the only times you can sign up for, change, or cancel your Medicare plans so it’s important to be aware of the dates. Also, be sure to review how your plan is working for you so that when these dates come around, you know what to do. If you have questions about how the enrollment periods work or need advice on the best plan for you, ask a licensed Medicare agent today.