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Medicare Enrollment Periods

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There are many different types of Medicare Enrollment Periods. These enrollment periods fall into two categories. First, open enrollment is available to anyone eligible for Medicare. Then, Special Enrollment Periods. If you want to change the coverage you currently have, you can do so during one of the above enrollment windows.

Medicare Enrollment Periods for Everyone

Medicare Enrollment Periods can be confusing because different enrollment periods have different dates for various purposes. There are many enrollment periods for people signing up for benefits for the first time.

If you’re receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits when you turn 65, you’ll automatically be enrolled in Medicare.

Enrollment periods are an opportunity to enroll in these plans as well as Part D, or to replace Medicare coverage with a Medicare Advantage plan.

Some enrollment periods are specifically for Medigap. And, others are specific for Medicare Advantage enrollment periods.

It’s highly recommended that you take advantage of the Medicare sign up period.

Initial Enrollment Period (IEP)

One Medicare enrollment period is the Initial Enrollment Period. The IEP allows you to sign up for Parts B and D when you turn 65.

Your Initial Enrollment Period begins three months before the month you turn 65, includes your birthday month and ends three months after you turn 65.

For example, if your birthday is June 15th, you can apply for Medicare between March 1st and September 30th.

Initial Enrollment Period 2 (IEP2)

Another enrollment period that is also 7-months is the Initial Enrollment Period 2. The IEP2 is for people who were already eligible for Part A and B before they turned 65.

During the IEP2, you can sign up for a Medicare Advantage or Part D plan. The IEP2 runs for the same seven-month period as the IEP.

Special Enrollment Period (SEP)

One of the most complicated Medicare enrollment periods is the Special Enrollment Period. A SEP is when you can make changes to your Medicare Advantage and 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 a 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.

Another example of a SEP will be if you’re switching from employer coverage to enrollment for Medicare.

Initial Coverage Election Period (ICEP)

Another Medicare enrollment period is the Initial Coverage Election Period. The 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. When you join later, your ICEP is the three months before your 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 Prescription Plan.
  • When on Medicare because of a disability, you can select a Medicare Advantage Plan or Medicare Drug Plan. Medicare coverage begins 24 months after SS or RRB disability 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 Prescription Drug Plan.
  • You can also switch from your current Medicare Advantage or Prescription Drug Plan to another plan.
  • Additionally, you can drop a Medicare Advantage or Prescription Drug Plan altogether. If you sign up for a Medicare Advantage Plan during this time, you can drop that plan during the next 12 months and return to Original Medicare.

General Enrollment Period

During the General Enrollment Period from January 1st to March 31st, you can enroll in Parts A and B. You may pay the penalty if you didn’t join in Part B during an IEP or SEP.

  • If you don’t have Part A coverage and you enroll in Part B during the General Enrollment Period, you can sign up for a drug plan between April 1st – June 30th.

Understanding the Different Enrollment Periods

There are 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.

Medicare Enrollment Periods

Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period

Your Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period begins the 1st day of the month you turn 65 years old, and your Part B has become effective. Many beneficiaries take advantage of this Medicare sign up period.

For example, if your birthday was August 31st and your Part B effective date was October 1st, then your OEP begins October 1st.

Your OEP lasts for six months; you’ll be 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 drug plan during your IEP, the AEP is your next chance to make changes. There are exceptions for those who qualify for a Medicare Special Enrollment Period.

Annual Election Period

During the Annual Election Period from October 15th to December 7th, you can:

  • Switch from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage.
  • Go from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare.
  • Switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another.
  • Enroll in Part D, or change or drop your prescription plan.

You can find the AEP checklist here.

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

Starting in 2019, the Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period will be replaced with the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period. This enrollment period is only for those who are currently enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan and are looking to switch to another or go back to Original Medicare.

Medicare Enrollment Periods Questions & Answers

What does ICEP stand for?
ICEP stands for Initial Coverage Election Period.
What does IEP stand for?
IEP stands for the Initial Enrollment Period.
What is the difference between Medicare IEP and ICEP?
The difference between IEP and ICEP is the IEP is for enrolling in Part A, Part B, and Part D. The ICEP is for joining in Part C.

Get Help Understanding All Medicare Enrollment Periods

Many people who choose Original Medicare also sign up for a Medicare Supplement plan that pays for the things Medicare doesn’t cover. At MedicareFAQ, we are committed to finding you the best rates on the top Medigap plans in your area.

When you sign up for a Medigap plan through us, you get unlimited support from our Client Care Team. If you ever have an issue with a claim or appeal, we can help. Call or click for a free quote.


  1. So, re: the above, two questions. 1) If Cynthia had qualified employer coverage until 6/30, would she have 2 months after that to sign up for MA? So, does the ICEP rule only apply if you’re starting Part B and not coming from employer or union coverage? 2) Can she not enroll in MA during AEP this fall? Thanks for letting us know.

    • Hi Ellen! 1) If Cynthia had qualified coverage until 6/30, she would get a 2-month SEP to enroll in Part B or Medicare Advantage. The ICEP rule applies to everyone. If Cynthia was enrolling in Part B at 65 years old, and not delaying coverage due to her employer group plan, she would have the normal 7-month ICEP/IEP window of 3 months before, the month of, and 3 months after her 65th birthday to sign up. At that time, she can enroll in Part B and Medicare Advantage. (you still have to have both Part A and Part B to enroll in a MA plan.) However, since she did delay enrolling in Part B, her ICEP to enroll in MA is three months before her Part B becomes effective. She would want to enroll in Part B AND the MA plan of her choice during her 2-month SEP, as well as ensure her Part B and MA plans are effective at the same time. If the effective date of the MA plan is after her Part B went into effect, the MA carrier would deny her coverage since she technically enrolled outside her ICEP. 2) As stated above, you have to be enrolled in Part A and Part B of Original Medicare to enroll in a MA plan. AEP is ONLY for those who already have Part A and Part B. If you don’t have both Part A & B, you won’t be eligible to make changes during the fall AEP. You would have to wait until the General Enrollment Period in January to enroll in Part B. Then, she would have to wait until the following AEP to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan. In Cynthia’s case, she now does have both parts of Original Medicare, so she can enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan during the next AEP in October since she missed her ICEP. Hopefully, that makes sense!

  2. I’ve recently ran into a problem. for whatever reason, my Medicare A, started Nov. 2018, but my B, didn’t start until 7/1/2020. so July 1st is my initial coverage, and I recently tried to sign-up for an Advantage plan, that I was told would go into effect August 1st. But then I was denied, told I needed to have done it … in June. // but I was previously told I had 3-mos prior to July & 3-mos after July, to sign-up for the Advantage plan.

    • Hi Cynthia! When you delay Part B, the enrollment period for getting a Medicare Advantage plan is during your Inital Coverage Election Period. This is different than the traditional Initial Enrollment Period when you get Part A and B at the same time. With the ICEP you must make your choice before your Part B starts, you only get 3 months before your Part B becomes effective to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan. That is why you were denied coverage by the Medicare Advantage carrier. Your coverage start date was the month after your Part B became effective. The good news is, your 6-month Open Enrollment Period for Medigap is still in effect. If your Part B effective date is July 1st, you have until December 1st to enroll in a Medigap plan without having to answer health questions. I hope this helps!

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