Medicare enrollment periods allow you to sign up for Medicare during your Initial Eligibility Period (IEP) or during other specified time periods.
When first signing up for Medicare, most people automatically enroll within their Initial Eligibility Period, which lasts for a total of 7 months. It begins three months before the 65th birthday month, includes the birthday month, and lasts for three months after the birthday month. During that period, a new Medicare enrollee can elect to participate in original Medicare, taking parts A and B for hospital and medical coverage. Additionally, they may elect to add a Medicare Part D prescription plan at additional cost.
Another option, called Medicare Advantage (also referred to as Part C), is a private insurance plan often modeled as a PPO or HMO that may include Part D drug coverage at little to no monthly premium, though the enrollee must pay for Medicare Part B. These plans are available for enrollment during the Initial Eligibility Period. It’s important for beneficiaries to understand that Medicare Advantage plans are an annual contract that runs from January 1 through December 31. Medicare Advantage plans offer a unique dis-enrollment period from January 1 through February 14 for those who mistakenly chose a plan that did not suit their needs and would like to return to original Medicare, parts A and B. Those in this scenario may also select a new part D prescription drug plan, if they would like one. There is an Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) from October 15 through December 7 where all Medicare beneficiaries may change their Part D prescription plans or Medicare Advantage plans or enroll into a plan if they haven’t previously enrolled with one. Changes made during this time period will go into effect the following January 1 and generally plan decisions are locked in for the entire year and may not be changed. There are special situations, called Special Election Periods (SEPs) where people can change their choice of a Medicare Advantage plan or Part D plan, or can enroll in a plan if they had not chosen one previously. These situations can include moving to a different state or area, losing your old plan, or receiving assistance from the state to pay for coverage. Under these special circumstances, some enrollees may change plans mid-year.
Medicare may have more specific guidelines pertaining to other, more unique situations. If nothing else, all beneficiaries may make changes to their coverage annually to adjust it to their liking, and agents and brokers can assist consumers in making decisions to tailor coverage to their needs.
Upcoming Medicare Enrollment Periods
- Initial Enrollment Period (IEP): Three months prior to your 65th birthday through three months after your 65th birthday
- Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period (MADP): January 1 – February 14, 2017
- General Enrollment Period: January 1 – March 31st, 2017
- Annual Election Period (AEP): October 15 – December 7, 2017
- Special Election Period (SEP): Must meet certain qualifications