If you have a Medicare Advantage plan or are thinking of enrolling in one, it is essential to understand the Medicare Advantage enrollment periods. There are various Medicare Advantage enrollment periods, including timeframes when you can enroll in a new plan, drop your current coverage, or change plans throughout the year. Medicare Advantage enrollment can be confusing, so it is important to be informed.
Some enrollment periods are the same for every Medicare enrollee, and others are dependent on your circumstances. Let’s go over Medicare Advantage enrollment, when you can change your plan, and how to make a change.
Can I Enroll in Medicare Advantage Anytime?
Unfortunately, Medicare Advantage enrollment can only be done during certain times throughout the year. So, you cannot enroll at any time. There are certain Medicare Advantage enrollment periods by which enrollees must abide to sign up for a plan.
There are four Medicare Advantage enrollment periods. Each of these enrollment periods works differently, but they all allow you access to Medicare Advantage enrollment. The occurrence of these Medicare Advantage enrollment periods ranges from annual, to once-in-a-lifetime, to circumstantial.
The four enrollment periods are:
- Initial Coverage Election Period
- Annual Enrollment Period
- Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period
- Special Enrollment Period
Initial Coverage Election Period
If you are new to Medicare, you will receive an Initial Enrollment Period that allows you to enroll in Medicare Part A, Part B, and Medicare Part D. At the same time, your Initial Coverage Election Period will also begin. This timeframe is your first chance for Medicare Advantage enrollment.
Your Initial Coverage Election Period will begin three months before your 65th birthday. Then, it ends on the last day of the month, three months following your 65th birthday.
During this Medicare Advantage enrollment period, you have free rein to enroll in any Medicare Advantage plan you wish.
Medicare Advantage Enrollment After Delaying Part B
If you are working past age 65, you may be eligible to delay Medicare Part B enrollment. However, before you decide to put off Medicare benefits, you must be sure you have creditable coverage. Otherwise, you will need to pay the Medicare Part B late enrollment penalty.
After delaying Medicare Part B coverage, you receive an eight-month Special Enrollment Period when you retire or lose your creditable health coverage. You should sign up for Medicare Part B before retiring to avoid a coverage gap.
If it makes sense in your situation, you can sign up for Medicare Part B at any time while working. Along with your eight-month Special Enrollment Period, you will receive your Initial Coverage Election Period to obtain a Medicare Advantage plan.
Medicare Advantage Annual Enrollment Period
If you miss your Initial Coverage Election Period, the Annual Enrollment Period is typically your next chance to for Medicare Advantage enrollment. Each year, the Annual Enrollment Period happens from October 15 through December 7. During this time, you can enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan that will be effective on January 1.
You can also use this enrollment window to disenroll from your Medicare Advantage plan and switch to Original Medicare or another Medicare Advantage plan. After you disenroll from your Medicare Advantage plan, you can pick up a Medigap plan and a stand-alone Part D drug plan to pair with Original Medicare.
Open Enrollment for Medicare Advantage Plans
Each year, the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period runs between January 1 and March 31. This enrollment period allows you to make a one-time change to your current Medicare Advantage plan.
The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period is only for those who already have Medicare Advantage. The Open Enrollment Period is not for you to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan for the first time. However, you can use it to change your Medicare Advantage policy to another or switch back to Original Medicare.
Medicare Advantage Special Enrollment Periods
A few events allow beneficiaries to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan or change their plan outside of a typical enrollment period. These particular circumstances give you a Special Enrollment Period (SEP).
Types of SEPs include:
- Trial Right Periods
- Life-Changing Events
Medicare Advantage Trial Right Periods
If you enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan during your Initial Coverage Election Period when you were first eligible for Medicare, you are entitled to a 12-month trial period. During this 12-month window, you have a Special Enrollment Period you can use at any time to cancel your Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare.
At the same time, you’ll have a guaranteed issue right to enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan. The guaranteed issue right will last for 63 days after you disenroll from your Medicare Advantage plan.
This same trial right applies to those who drop a Medicare Supplement plan and enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan for the first time.
In this scenario, you also get a 12-month window offering you a Special Enrollment Period to change your mind. Once you disenroll from your plan, you have 63 days to re-enroll in a Medicare Supplement with guaranteed issue rights.
Still, this trial right has limits. You can only re-enroll in your previous Medicare Supplement plan if it is still available in your area. So, if your plan’s premium goes up, you will be responsible for the change in cost.
Special Enrollment Periods for Limited Income and Life-Changing Events
Those with a limited income or who go through life-changing events are eligible for a few Special Enrollment Periods. These SEPs are specific to situations and require proof of circumstances for a beneficiary to be admitted to the plan.
Special Enrollment Periods for low income and life-changing events include:
- Medicare Advantage Dual Special Enrollment Period
- Losing employer or group coverage
- Medicare Advantage Low-Income Subsidy and Extra Help Special Enrollment Period
- Medicare Advantage State Pharmaceutical Assistance Program Special Enrollment Period
- Special Enrollment Periods When Moving, Institutionalized, or on a Special Needs Plan
- FEMA-Declared Weather-Related Emergency or Major Disaster
- If you believe you qualify for any of these Special Enrollment Periods, contact your local Social Security Administration office to confirm eligibility.
How to Get Help with Medicare Advantage Enrollment Periods
When deciding which coverage option works best for you, using the free help of an agent is invaluable. Because some of the above enrollment periods only allow you to make a change one time, it is crucial to get it right the first time. If not, you could be stuck with a plan you do not want for an entire year.
At MedicareFAQ, we are here to help our clients however possible. Plus, once you enroll through our free services, our Client Care Team is always here to help. Give us a call, or use our rates form to compare all Medicare plans available in your area today!
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- Medicare Managed Care Eligibility and Enrollment, Medicare. Accessed March 2022.
- Understanding Medicare Part C, CMS. Accessed March 2022.