When Is The Medicare Open Enrollment Period?

Healthcare Writer

Updated on March 25th, 2022

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When Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period rolls around, get ready to find better coverage and perhaps save money, too. The Annual Election Period (AEP), its other name, runs from October 15 through December 7, every year.

The AEP is the time each year to compare and perhaps switch Medicare coverage — without penalty. About one in 10 people with Medicare Advantage plans change their plan during this time.

What Can You Do During the Medicare Open Enrollment?

  • Change from Original Medicare (Part A and B) to Medicare Advantage, or vice versa.
  • Change Medicare Advantage plans (Part C).
  • Join, change, or leave your Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage. 

If You Change Plans, When Do Benefits Begin?

If you make a change during the Annual Election Period, your new plan will begin on January 1.

Is Approval Guaranteed?

Yes, you can switch Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D plans during AEP regardless of whether you have pre-existing medical conditions. If you switch plans at this time, you’re guaranteed to be approved. You won’t have to pay extra either; there’s no penalty to switch.

Is AEP Available to Everyone?

Anyone can make important changes to their Medicare coverage each year during the Annual Election Period.

You don’t have to change anything during AEP. However, experts urge people to closely compare your plan to other local options during this annual window. Studies show that more than half the people who shop around, even for an hour or two, find better coverage and often save money, too.

What Does AEP Mean?

Sometimes, people call Medicare’s Annual Election Period (AEP) the “Annual Enrollment Period” or “open enrollment period.” This is because you can elect, or choose, to make certain changes to your Medicare during this time.

The name confuses some people since most healthcare days are centered around “enrollments” and not “elections.” page divider HealthCare

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (MA-OEP): January 1 — March 31, 2021

Starting in 2020, there’s an additional Medicare enrollment period to consider. It’s called the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period.

Here’s how it works. Essentially, you can test drive an Advantage plan and then switch. You first buy an Advantage plan during the Annual Election Period before January 1. You then have until March 31 to see if you are satisfied with the plan. If you aren’t, you can make changes. 

What Can You Do During the New Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period?

  • Move from one Medicare Advantage plan (Medicare Part C) to another Advantage plan – but only one time.
  • Move from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare (Medicare Part A and Part B), and choose to sign up for a standalone Part D prescription drug plan. You may also sign up for a Medicare Supplement plan (see more below).

What CAN’T You Do During the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period?

  • Move from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage.
  • Move from one Medicare Part D prescription drug plan to a different RX drug plan.

When Are Medicare Open Enrollment Changes Effective?

When you leave a Medicare Advantage plan during your MA OEP, your plan lasts through the end of the month. For instance, if you request to leave your Medicare Advantage plan on January 27, your last day on the plan will be January 31. Your new Medicare Advantage plan would start on February 1.

It’s also easy to cancel a Medicare Advantage plan during your MA-OEP.

Can You Make Multiple Changes?

During the October Annual Election Period, you can make as many coverage changes as you want. During the MA-OEP, your options are  limited. However, if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period, you may also enroll in a new policy and leave your old carrier. 

What About Medicare Supplement (or Medigap)?

If you leave Medicare Advantage and go back to Original Medicare, you may lose your “guaranteed issue right” for Medicare Supplement plans. Medigap plans help to pay for out-of-pocket costs that Original Medicare doesn’t cover — commonly 20% of your medical bills. 

A “guaranteed issue right” requires insurers to sell you a Medigap policy, cover all pre-existing conditions, and not charge higher premiums due to your health history. This protection applies under different scenarios, such as if your plan ends coverage in your area. Then you have 63 days to apply for a new plan.  

If you were on Medicare Advantage for the first time for less than a year and switched to Original Medicare, then you keep your “guaranteed issue rights” for a Medigap supplement plan.

Standalone Medicare Part D

If you drop your Advantage plan during the MA-OEP and enroll in Original Medicare, you can join a standalone Medicare Part D RX drug plan before the March 31 deadline. You can enroll in a Medicare Part D plan to help pay for your prescriptions even if you didn’t have a Part D plan before then. 

doctor blood test | AEP explainer

Joining Medicare Advantage or Medicare Drug Coverage at Other Times

Initial Enrollment Period

In general, you can enroll in the Medicare coverage you want within your first few months of joining Medicare. Your Initial Enrollment Period is three months before and three months after you turn 65 (if you enroll automatically) or when you first select Part B (if, for instance, you delayed Medicare enrollment perhaps because you had better health insurance at work).

Special Enrollment

To avoid confusion, we offer this list of unique circumstances that allow you to change Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D coverage at any time of the year. Life changes such as moving to a new ZIP code or becoming eligible for Medicaid can allow you to get coverage and care immediately. 

Medicare Supplement (Medigap) Enrollment Dates

When you think about your Medicare coverage, consider whether you will be better off with a Medicare Advantage plan or original Medicare plus a Medicare Supplement plan. You can’t have both Advantage and Medigap plans since they provide the same benefit — a safety net against runaway medical bills.

If you join original Medicare in your initial enrollment period when you turn 65 and enroll in Medicare Part B, you can buy any Medigap policy regardless of your health history. You will not be asked questions about your health. But if you join after the initial six-month period (called Medigap open enrollment), the insurer will question you and may refuse to sell you a policy or charge you higher premiums based on your age and health. An exception to this rule is if you have a “guaranteed issue right” (see above).

When Should You Expect New Medicare Information?

Each fall, every Medicare plan member receives a letter titled “Annual Notice of Change” or “Evidence of Coverage.”

This annual notice should arrive by September for people with original Medicare, Medicare Advantage, and Medicare Part D. Read the letter and the accompanying booklet thoroughly, focusing on the changes for the coming year. Any number of changes may affect you and your healthcare significantly and may lead you to switching coverage. 

Virtually every Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plan makes significant changes to costs or benefits, or both, each year. The price of your plan could increase, or your list of in-network providers could expand or more likely diminish. If the changes mean your plan no longer matches your health needs or your means, take advantage of the Annual Election Period from October 15 through December to find a better alternative for the year ahead. 

Where Can I Find Extra Information About Medicare, Enrollments, and More?

We at Healthcare.com are dedicated to helping people “do their homework” on Medicare and make better decisions about your health insurance. Although Medicare can seem complicated, the facts here about Medicare AEP can help you to avoid serious mistakes about your coverage and to stay protected. 

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