When Can I Enroll In a Medicare Advantage Plan?
Medicare Advantage Plans Enrollment Periods
To sign up for a Medicare Advantage Plan, you must first be enrolled in Original Medicare (Medicare Part A and Part B).
The timeframe for enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan is called an enrollment period. You have three enrollment periods during which you can choose or switch plans each calendar year.
Initial Enrollment Period (New to Medicare)
You can join a Medicare Advantage Plan when you first become eligible for Original Medicare; this is your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). This enrollment period starts three months before you get your Original Medicare and ends three months after.
If you request to join a plan before your Original Medicare starts, your Medicare Advantage plan coverage will start the same day as your Original Medicare starts.
If you request to join a plan after your Medicare starts, your coverage starts the first of the month after the plan gets your request.
Medicare Annual Enrollment Period (AEP)
While the name indicates you can sign up for Original Medicare during this period, the Annual Enrollment Period is a time for beneficiaries to make changes to their current coverage. Someone may want to change their coverage because their needs change or because their current plan increases costs or changes the benefits offered. During the period from October 15 to December 7, you can:
- Change from a Medicare Advantage Plan to Original Medicare or vice versa
- Change to a different Medicare Advantage plan
- Change your Part D prescription plan
- Enroll in or drop a Part D plan
The Medicare Advantage plan you choose will be effective on January 1. If you do not wish to change your current plan, your existing coverage will continue into the next year without needing to inform Medicare.
Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (OEP)
If enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, you can make changes during the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period, which runs from January 1 to March 31 of each year.
During this period, you can:
- Switch to another Medicare Advantage plan, with or without drug coverage
- Drop a Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare, including adding Medicare Part D benefits
During this period, you cannot:
- Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan
- Join or switch from one drug plan to another drug plan if you’re in the Original Medicare
If you do not wish to change your current plan, your existing coverage will continue into the next year without needing to inform Medicare.
Special Enrollment Period (SEP)
Some beneficiaries qualify to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan during a Special Enrollment Period. There are no set dates for a Special Enrollment Period. Instead, dates will vary based on your circumstances. Two kinds of Medicare Special Enrollment Periods allow you to sign up or switch plans outside the standard enrollment periods. These are:
- SEP for Qualifying Life Events
- SEP for Working Past 65
For beneficiaries who have Original Medicare but experience a qualifying life event, there is a 2-month window for switching to a Medicare Advantage or Part D drug plan. Some of the qualifying life events include:
- You move to a new address outside your plan’s service area
- You change jobs
- You or your spouse loses your current health insurance coverage
- You qualify for extra help from the government
- You become eligible for Medicaid
- Your current plan changes its contract with Medicare.