Open Enrollment lasts for the first three months of every year.
Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment starts January 1 and ends on March 31 every year. The Open Enrollment Period (OEP) is one of several times throughout the year when you can change your Medicare plan.
What Is the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period?
The Medicare Advantage (MA) Open Enrollment Period (OEP) allows Medicare beneficiaries who have an Advantage plan to either switch to a new plan or return to Original Medicare. It is an annual event that runs from January 1 through March 31.
You may only participate in the Medicare Advantage OEP if you currently have an MA plan. If you have Original Medicare (Parts A and B), you have to wait for the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period to join an Advantage plan.
Your options during Open Enrollment are:
- Leave your current plan for a new MA plan
- Return to Original Medicare
If making that change results in you losing your prescription drug coverage, you may also join a standalone Medicare Part D plan.
When Is the Best Time to Sign Up for Medicare?
The best time to sign up for Medicare is during your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). It lasts a full 7 months, beginning 3 months before the month you turn 65. Move those dates forward one month if you were born on the first.
- If your 65th birthday is on May 9, your IEP begins February 1 and ends on August 31
- If you turn 65 on May 1, your IEP begins January 1 and ends on July 31
Unless you began collecting social security benefits at least 4 months before turning 65, you must choose to sign up for Medicare. You do that through the Social Security Administration (SSA) by clicking here.
During your IEP, you choose which parts of Medicare you want:
- Also known as hospital insurance, Medicare Part A covers inpatient care
- Sometimes called medical insurance, Medicare Part B covers outpatient services
- Medicare Part C is more commonly known as Medicare Advantage
- Medicare Part D provides prescription drug coverage
Even if you're automatically enrolled in Parts A and B, you still need to choose a prescription drug plan. You also need to decide whether you'd like to supplement your coverage with either Medicare Advantage or a Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plan.
When Is the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period?
The Medicare Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) occurs every year from October 15 through December 7. It is only available to current Medicare beneficiaries. If you missed your Initial Enrollment Period and want to sign up for Medicare, you need to wait for the General Enrollment Period. (More on that in a moment.)
AEP is your yearly opportunity to make changes to your Medicare coverage. During Annual Enrollment you can:
- Move from one Medicare Advantage plan to another
- Leave Original Medicare to join an Advantage plan
- Leave an Advantage plan to return to Original Medicare
- Join or switch to a new Medicare Part D plan
- Leave a Medicare Part D plan
Changes you make during Annual Enrollment take effect on January 1. If you do not make any changes, your current Medicare coverage continues.
When Is the Best Time to Apply for Medigap?
The best time to apply for Medigap is during your Medigap Open Enrollment Period. This is different from the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period. First, of course, is that it's for Medigap, not Medicare Advantage. Second is that this is a one-time deal. You don't get a yearly window to join a Medicare Supplement plan.
If you're going to keep Original Medicare, we highly recommend signing up for a Supplement plan during your Medigap Open Enrollment Period. This is one of the few times you have a guaranteed issue right. This means that Medigap insurers cannot deny you coverage or charge you a higher premium – even if you have preexisting medical conditions.
When you don't have a guaranteed issue right, insurance companies use a process called medical underwriting to determine whether to offer you a policy. Age, tobacco use, and medical history can make it impossible to get Medigap insurance – or cause sky-high premiums.
Your Medigap Open Enrollment Period begins the day you are both age 65 or older and enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B. It lasts for 6 months.
When Is the General Enrollment Period?
The Medicare General Enrollment Period starts on January 1 and ends on March 31. It is for people who qualify for but do not have Medicare Part A and/or Medicare Part B.
During General Enrollment, you are limited to signing up for Medicare Part A and/or B. However, once it ends, you have from April 1 through June 30 to sign up for a Medicare Advantage and/or Medicare Part D plan.
All coverage choices will begin on July 1.
Special Enrollment Periods
If you experience what Medicare calls special circumstances, you may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP). This allows you to make changes to your Medicare coverage outside of the usual enrollment periods.
Guidelines for each SEP vary. However, most SEPs gives you 2 to 3 months to make your changes.
Special circumstances include:
- Losing your current coverage
- Getting a chance for other, creditable coverage
- Your plan's contract with Medicare changes or ends
- You become dual eligible (qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid)
- Left a Medigap plan to join an Advantage plan
There are literally dozens of ways to qualify for a Special Enrollment Period. You can find the full list on Medicare.gov.
Comparing Your Medicare Plan Options
When comparing your Medicare plan options, it's important to look at both costs and benefits.
- Costs may include monthly premiums, deductibles, and copays or coinsurance. Look at all of the costs, not just the monthly premium, for a more accurate estimate of what you'll pay for the plan.
- Benefits help put the plan's costs into perspective.
Our Find a Plan tool makes comparing your options easy. Just enter your location and coverage start date to review Medicare plans in your area.