If you want to sign up for Medicare or change the coverage you currently have, you must do it during one of the Medicare Enrollment Periods. Enrollment periods fall into two categories: open enrollment, available to anyone who is eligible for Medicare; and special enrollment periods based on your circumstances.
Medicare enrollment periods can be confusing because there are different enrollment periods with different dates for different purposes. Here’s a glossary of terms to help you understand enrollment periods, when they happen, and who they apply to.
Medicare Enrollment Periods for People New to Medicare
There are five enrollment periods for people signing up for benefits for the first time. If you are receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits when you turn 65, you’ll automatically be enrolled in Original Medicare Parts A (hospitals) and B (medical). Enrollment periods are an opportunity to manually enroll in these plans as well as Part D (prescriptions), or to replace Original Medicare coverage with a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan.
The Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) allows you to sign up for Medicare Parts B and D when you turn 65. Your IEP begins three months before the month you turn 65, includes your birthday month, and ends three months after the month you turn 65. For example, if your birthday is June 15th, you can enroll in Medicare between March 1st and September 30th.
There is also a 7-month Initial Enrollment Period 2 (IEP2) for people who were already eligible for Medicare Parts A and B before they turned 65 (because of a disability, for example). During the IEP2, you can sign up for a Medicare Advantage or Part D prescription plan. The IEP2 runs for the same seven-month period as the IEP.
A Special Enrollment Period (SEP) is when you can make changes to your Medicare Advantage and Medicare Prescription Drug coverage when certain events happen in your life. Events include situations such as if you move or lose other insurance coverage. An example is losing health insurance through you or your spouse’s employer. When you qualify for an SEP, you’ll have up to 60 days following the event to enroll in coverage. Rules about when you can make changes and the type of changes you can make are different for each SEP.
The Initial Coverage Election Period (ICEP) is your first opportunity to choose a Medicare Advantage plan instead of Original Medicare. During the ICEP, you can also sign up for prescription drug coverage. If you enroll in Part B when you turn 65, your ICEP is the same as your IEP. If you enroll later, your ICEP is the three-month period before your Medicare Part B coverage takes effect.
- If you’re newly eligible for Medicare because you turned 65, you can sign up for a Medicare Advantage Plan or a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan.
- If you’re newly eligible for Medicare because you’re disabled and under 65, you can sign up for a Medicare Advantage Plan or a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan starting 21 months after you get social security or RRB benefits. Your Medicare coverage will begin 24 months after you get SS or RRB disability benefits, your chance to sign up lasts through the 27th month after you get start to receive benefits.
- If you’re already eligible for Medicare because of a disability and you turned 65, you can sign up for a Medicare Advantage Plan or a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan. You can also switch from your current Medicare Advantage or Medicare Prescription Drug Plan to another plan or drop a Medicare Advantage or Medicare Prescription Drug Plan completely. If you sign up for a Medicare Advantage Plan during this time, you can drop that plan at any time during the next 12 months and go back to Original Medicare.
During the General Enrollment Period from January 1 to March 31, you can enroll in Parts A and B. You may pay a penalty if you didn’t enroll in Part B during an IEP or SEP.
- If you don’t have Medicare Part A coverage, and you enroll in Medicare Part B during the Part B General Enrollment Period, you can sign up for a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan between April 1st – June 30th.
- If you have Medicare Part A coverage and you enroll in Medicare Part B during the Part B General Enrollment Period, you can sign up for a Medicare Advantage Plan or a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan between April 1st – June 30th.
Enrollment Periods for People Currently on Medicare
There’s three enrollment periods for people signing up for benefits who are already enrolled in Original Medicare. During open enrollment, you can make changes to your Medicare plans and add additional coverage.
Your Open Enrollment Period (OEP) begins the 1st day of the month AFTER you turn 65 years old and your Medicare Part B has become effective. For example, if your birthday was August 31st and your Medicare Part B effective date was October 5th, then your OEP begins November 1st. Your OEP will continue for 6 months and you’re granted Medicare Supplement Guaranteed Issue rights. During this time, you can sign up for a Medicare Supplement Plan, also known as Medigap.
If you didn’t sign up for a Medicare Advantage or a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan during your IEP, the AEP is your next chance to make changes, with the exception for those who qualified for a Medicare Special Enrollment Period.
During the Annual Election Period (AEP) from October 15 to December 7, you can:
- Switch from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage.
- Switch from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare.
- Switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another.
- Enroll in Part D prescription drug coverage, or change or drop your prescription plan.
The Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period (MADP) from January 1 to February 14 is an opportunity to switch from Medicare Advantage back to Original Medicare. If you switch to Original Medicare, you can also sign up for a prescription drug plan.
During MADP, you cannot do the following:
- Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan
- Switch from one Medicare Advantage Plan to another
- Switch from one Medicare Prescription Drug Plan to another
- Join, switch, or drop a Medicare Medical Savings Account Plan
Information on When to Sign Up for Medicare
Many people who choose Original Medicare also sign up for a Medicare Supplement (or Medigap) plan that pays for the things Parts A and B don’t cover. At MedicareFAQ, we are committed to finding you the best rates on the top Medigap plans in your area. Call or click for a free quote.
Contact us today for more information on when to sign up for Medicare, how to enroll in Medicare or to find answers to questions like “when does Medicare start?” Our licensed agents will be able to help you understand all the different Medicare parts and make sure you have all the health care coverage you need.