Medicare Enrollment and Election Periods

 

Whether you’re enrolling in Original Medicare for the first time or looking at all your Medicare plan options, there are rules about when you can enroll or make changes to your Medicare coverage, depending on the type of Medicare coverage. For example, if you’re interested in signing up for a Medicare Advantage plan, one of the times you can enroll is the Annual Election Period, which occurs from October 15 to December 7 every year.

Medicare initial enrollment and election periods

Each type of Medicare coverage has a period when you’re initially eligible to enroll. Note that in most cases, enrollment in Medicare happens automatically.

  • Initial Enrollment Period for Original Medicare: This is the seven-month period when you’re first eligible to enroll in Original Medicare, Part A and Part B. For most people, it starts three months before you turn 65, includes the month you turn 65, and ends three months later. In most cases you’re automatically enrolled in Medicare when you turn 65 if you’re already receiving Social Security Administration (SSA) or Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) benefits.
  • If you receive disability benefits from the SSA or RRB, enrollment in Medicare is usually automatic. Your Initial Enrollment Period depends on the type of condition you have, but in most cases it’s a seven-month period starting your 22nd month of receiving disability benefits.
  • If you have Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS), you qualify for Medicare and are automatically enrolled the same month you start receiving disability benefits.
  • If you have end-stage renal disease (ESRD), which is kidney failure that necessitates a regular course of dialysis or a kidney transplant, you may be eligible for Medicare regardless of age. If you have ESRD, contact Social Security to enroll (contact information is at the end of this page).
  • Initial Coverage Election Period for Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage): This is the period when you’re first eligible to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, and usually takes place at the same time as your Initial Enrollment Period for Original Medicare. It starts three months before you have both Medicare Part A and Part B and live in the service area of a Medicare Advantage plan. If you enroll during your Initial Enrollment Period, this period lasts for seven months and takes place at the same time. If you delay Medicare Part B, it starts three months before your Part B coverage becomes effective, and lasts for only those three months.
  • Initial Enrollment Period for Part D: This is the period when you’re first eligible to enroll in a stand–alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan and may take place at the same time as your Initial Enrollment Period for Original Medicare. It starts when you have Medicare Part A or Part B, and live in the service area of a prescription drug plan. During this period, you can sign up for a stand-alone Medicare Prescription Drug Plan.
  • Medigap Open Enrollment Period: This is the six-month period when you’re initially eligible to enroll in a Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plan with guaranteed-issue rights. It automatically starts when you’re 65 and enrolled in Medicare Part B. After this period is over, you can apply for a Medicare Supplement plan at any time, but you may be required to go through an underwriting process, and your acceptance isn’t guaranteed.

Medicare open enrollment and election periods

Both Original Medicare and private Medicare-approved insurance companies have certain times of the year when you can enroll or make changes to your coverage. These include:

  • General Enrollment Period: This is the period when you can enroll in Medicare Part A and/or Part B if you didn’t do so when you were first eligible. It occurs every year from January 1 to March 31. You may have to pay a late-enrollment penalty for Medicare Part A and/or Part B, unless you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period (described in the next section).
  • Annual Election Period: This is a period when you can switch from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage coverage or vice versa; add or drop prescription drug coverage; switch plans; or disenroll from Medicare Advantage to return to Original Medicare. The Annual Election Period takes place every year from October 15 to December 7.

Medicare special enrollment and election periods

Outside of regular enrollment and election periods, you have limited opportunities to enroll or make changes to your Medicare coverage unless you qualify for one of the periods described below.

  • Special Enrollment Period for Medicare Part A and/or Part B: Some people may delay enrollment in Medicare Part A and/or B if they have other health coverage, such as through an employer. You won’t have to pay a late enrollment penalty for Medicare Part A and/or Part B if you sign up during a Special Enrollment Period. International volunteers and disabled TRICARE beneficiaries may also qualify for a Special Enrollment Period in some instances.
  • Special Election Period: You’re allowed to make changes to your Medicare Advantage or Medicare prescription drug coverage in certain situations. These may include, but aren’t limited to: moving out of your plan’s service area, losing Medicaid eligibility, or Medicare terminating your plan’s contract.
  • 5-Star Special Election Period: From December 8 to November 30 of the following year, you can switch to a Medicare Advantage, Medicare prescription drug plan, or Medicare Cost plan that Medicare has given a 5-star rating. You can only use this Special Election Period once during this timeframe.

Disenrollment periods

Medicare Advantage is the only part of Medicare that has a dedicated disenrollment period.

  • Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period: If you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan and change your mind, you can disenroll during this period to return to Original Medicare. This period takes place from January 1 to February 14. If you leave your Medicare Advantage plan, you can also use this period to enroll in a Medicare prescription drug plan.

To learn about Medicare plans you may be eligible for, you can:

  • Contact the Medicare plan directly.
  • Call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY users 1-877-486-2048; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Contact a licensed insurance agency such as Medicare Consumer Guide’s parent company, eHealth.
    • Call eHealth's licensed insurance agents at 888-391-2659, TTY users 711. We are available Mon - Fri, 8am - 8pm ET. You may receive a messaging service on weekends and holidays from February 15 through September 30. Please leave a message and your call will be returned the next business day.
    • Or enter your zip code where requested on this page to see quote.

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