Medicare Enrollment Periods
Initial Enrollment Period (IEP)
The Medicare initial enrollment period (IEP) is the first enrollment period you encounter. During this time you can enroll in all parts of Medicare (Parts A, B, C, D) and also Medicare supplements if you’d like. The IEP window is not annual and is unique to each individual. Many beneficiaries miss their IEP which results in them getting a late enrollment penalty that you can’t get rid of. Applying for Medicare during IEP is highly recommended and will help you avoid any late enrollment penalties. The IEP period begins the three months before your 65th birthday month, the month of your 65th birthday, and continues for three months after your birthday month. Bringing you to a total of seven months in which you can actively sign up for Part A and Part B. For those who are receiving Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), your IEP Period window will begin after receiving such benefits for 24 months, and then again when you turn 65.
When Will My Part A and B Coverage Begin?
Even though you enroll in the months leading up to your 65th birthday, your coverage will not begin earlier than the first day of your birthday month. If your birthday falls on the first of the month, your coverage will start the first day of the month prior to your birthday month. If you enroll during the month of your 65th birthday, your coverage will start on the first day of the month after your birthday. If you enroll in the three months following your 65 birthday, your effective date will be the first of the month either three, five, or six months after your birthday month, depending on when you enroll. The following chart shows when your coverage will begins depending on which month in your IEP you enrolled:
Part D Initial Enrollment Period for Medicare
Your Part D (Medicare Prescription Drug Plan) Initial Enrollment Period is the same as your Medicare Part A and Part B Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). Keep in mind that if you didn’t enroll in Part D during your IEP window and you don’t have creditable coverage, then you will incur a Part D late enrollment penalty.
Annual Election Period (AEP)
The Medicare Enrollment Period (AEP) runs from October 15th to December 7th every year. This period is also known as the Medicare Annual Election Period. During this period you can make make the following changes:
- Disenroll from Original Medicare and enroll in Medicare Advantage
- Switch from Medicare Advantage back to Original Medicare
- Change from one Medicare Advantage plan to another
- Enroll in a Medicare Prescription Drug plan (Part D)
- Switch from one Prescription Drug plan to another
- Drop your Prescription Drug coverage
Special Enrollment Period (SEP)
You may experience certain life events or circumstances that can make you eligible to enroll or change your coverage outside the standard enrollment periods. These are known as Special Enrollment Periods (SEP).
There are over a dozen special enrollment periods available, from moving to a different area that isn’t in your current plan’s service region to losing your employer sponsored group health coverage.
If you have Medicare and also are enrolled in your state’s Medicaid program or eligible for Medicare Low-Income Subsidy, you are entitled to more chances throughout the year to make changes in addition to standard enrollment periods . You can join, switch, or drop plan once throughout the following dates:
- January to March
- April to June
- July to September
Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (OEP)
During the Medicare Advantage OEP, only those who are currently enrolled in the Medicare Advantage plan can make changes.
- You can switch to another Medicare Advantage plan
- You can drop your Medicare Advantage plan and switch to Original Medicare (Part A and B) and enroll in a Medicare Prescription Drug plan (Part D)
Medicare Supplement (Medigap) Open Enrollment Period
If you are interested in purchasing Medicare Supplement (Medigap) to cover the 20% costs that Original Medicare doesn’t, this period is the best time to do it since a carrier cannot deny you coverage due to any pre-existing health conditions. This is a once in a lifetime window that allows you to enroll in any Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plan with a guaranteed issue without answering health questions.
It begins the month that you enroll in Part B and lasts for 6 months.For example, if your Part B starts on February 1st, then your Open Enrollment Period lasts until July 31st (the last day of the 6th month).
Keep in mind that this is not an annual period but rather it only happens once in a lifetime, unless you are collecting SSDI (Social Security Disability Income). If you are younger than 65 years old and getting Medicare due to disability, you will get two Medigap Open Enrollment Periods - when your Part B first becomes effective and when you turn 65. Other than that, you only get one shot, so make it count!
General Enrollment Period (GEP)
If you forgot to sign up for Medicare when you were first eligible and do not qualify for any Special Enrollment Periods (SEP), the Medicare General Enrollment Period is your chance to enroll in Original Medicare (Parts A & B). This period takes place from January 1 through March 31 of every year.
When you enroll during GEP, your Medicare Part A and Part B will not begin until July 1 of that year, subjecting you to Part B late enrollment penalties and potentially leaving you without coverage for months.
If you get Medicare Part A and Part B for the first time during the General Enrollment Period, you can also join a Medicare drug plan or a Medicare Advantage plan from April 1 through June 30 and your coverage will not become active until July 1.
Remember, just like the Medicare Part B, there is a Part D late enrollment penalty if you don’t sign up when you first become eligible. To learn more about Part D late enrollment penalty, click here.
Frequently Asked Questions
No, you don’t have to. But keep in mind unless you have creditable insurance, for example an employer sponsored health coverage, you will incur a late enrollment penalty that unfortunately you can’t get rid of.
If you have Medicaid, you should sign up for Part B. Medicare will be your primary and your Medicaid will be your secondary. In many states, Medicaid may be able to help pay your Medicare out-of-pocket costs (like deductibles, coinsurances, copayments, and even premiums) depending on the type of Medicaid you are enrolled in.
No, withdrawing Social Security doesn’t make you eligible for Medicare. You must be 65 years old unless you have Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) or have been collecting Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) for at least 24 months.