Once you become eligible for Medicare your opportunity to enroll in, or change your plan happens only during specific times each year. Understanding these different enrollment periods is an important part of maintaining your coverage, your choice of doctors and your continuity of care.
Medicare Annual Enrollment Period
October 15 – December 7
Medicare open enrollment – also known as Medicare’s annual election period – runs from October 15 through December 7 each year. During this annual window, Medicare plan enrollees can reevaluate their coverage – whether it’s Original Medicare with supplemental drug coverage, or Medicare Advantage – and make changes or purchase new policies if they want to do so.
During the Medicare open enrollment period, you can:
- Switch from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage (as long as you’re enrolled in both Medicare Part A and Part B, and you live in the Medicare Advantage plan’s service area).
- Switch from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare (plus a Medicare Part D plan, and possibly a Medigap plan).
- Switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another.
- Switch from one Medicare Part D prescription drug plan to another.
- Enroll in a Medicare Part D plan if you didn’t enroll when you were first eligible for Medicare. If you haven’t maintained other creditable coverage, a late-enrollment penalty may apply.
Prior to 2021, patients with end-stage renal disease were unable to enroll in Medicare Advantage plans unless there was a Medicare Special Needs plan available in their area for ESRD patients. But that is changing for 2021, under the terms of the 21st Century Cures Act. People with ESRD have the option to enroll in Medicare Advantage for 2021, and CMS expects more than 40,000 to do so. This could be particularly advantageous for beneficiaries with ESRD who are under age 65 and living in states that don’t guarantee access to Medigap plans for people under the age of 65.
Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period
January 1 – March 31
During the Medicare Advantage open enrollment period (January 1 – March 31), persons enrolled in Medicare Advantage can:
- Switch to Original Medicare (and enroll in a Part D plan; access to Medigap might require medical underwriting, depending on the circumstances.)
- Switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan.
Only one plan change is allowed during this window (unlike the fall enrollment period, when a person can change their mind multiple times).
Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) and Initial Coverage Election Period (ICEP)
Retiring at age 65
If you plan to retire at 65, your initial Medicare enrollment window is a 7-month period (usually around your 65th birthday) that includes:
- 3 months before you’re first eligible for Medicare coverage.
- The month you start to qualify for Medicare coverage.
- 3 months after you start to qualify for Medicare coverage.
These 7 months typically also count as an Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) for Part D (prescription drug) coverage. This means you can sign up for a Medicare Advantage or a Cost plan with Part D. However, if you have Medicare Part B, you can join a Cost plan without Part D at any time.
Retiring after 65
If you plan to retire after 65, you can enroll in Part A and/or Part B during the 8-month period that begins the month after the employer or union group health plan coverage ends, or when the employment ends (whichever is first).
Special Enrollment Periods
There are unique circumstances that allow you to sign up for a Medicare Advantage or Medicare Cost plan—both with prescription drug coverage—or for a Medicare Part D plan (for prescription drug coverage) at various times of year.
You may qualify if any of the following applies to you:
- You were enrolled in another organization’s plan, but recently moved into a different service area.
- If you’re eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California), you may qualify for our Special Needs Plan (SNP), which is available in some plan service areas. Qualified beneficiaries may enroll in a SNP plan at any time.
- You had a Special needs plan, but recently lost eligibility for it.
- You are Medicare-Medicaid eligible or you recently lost eligibility.
- You qualify for Extra Help to pay for your prescription drug costs or you recently lost eligibility for this Extra Help.
- You will soon be enrolling in, are currently enrolled in or recently left an employer Group health plan.
- You recently lost creditable prescription drug coverage.
- You currently live in or recently left a nursing home.
Other events may qualify you for a Special Enrollment Period. For more information, call Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) (toll-free) or 1-877-486-2048 (toll-free TTY for the hearing/speech impaired), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.