Understanding the Different Medicare Enrollment Periods

When enrolling in Medicare coverage, understanding the different Medicare enrollment periods can be confusing. There are so many different dates to remember and getting them mixed up can cause consequences.

Avoid missing important enrollment deadlines that can result in costly penalties and delays in coverage by knowing the key enrollment periods.

Initial Enrollment Period (IEP)

The first opportunity you have to enroll in Medicare is called the “Medicare Initial Enrollment Period,” or IEP. This is a seven-month window of time that begins

  •  three months before 65th birthday,
  • runs through your birthday month,
  •  and ends three months after you turn 65.

During your initial enrollment period, you can:

  • Enroll in Original Medicare (Part A and Part B)
  • Enroll in Prescription Drug Coverage  (Part D)
  • Enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C)

For more information about the four parts of Medicare visit, “Understanding Medicare Parts”

If you do not enroll in Medicare Part A, B, or D when first eligible, you may be subject to late enrollment penalties that can result in higher monthly premiums.

General Enrollment Period (GEP)

If you missed your initial enrollment period, then the next opportunity you have to enroll in a Medicare health plan is during the  “General Enrollment Period.” “General Enrollment Period,” or GEP, runs from January 1st – March 31st. During this time period, you will be able to enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B if you:

  • Missed your initial enrollment period
  • Don’t qualify for a Special Enrollment Period

Special Enrollment Period (SEP)

Under certain special circumstances, Medicare-eligible individuals may qualify for a special enrollment period outside of their initial enrollment period.  During a special enrollment, you can enroll in and make changes to your Medicare coverage without penalty as long as you have a qualifying life event.  Common qualifying life events include:

  • You move out of your plan’s service area
  • You lose your current health coverage, including employer coverage
  • You have the opportunity to get other coverage (employer or union)
  • Your plan changes its contract with Medicare
  • You were affected by a disaster or emergency

Annual Enrollment Period (AEP)

The “Annual Enrollment Period” is the standard period of time in which Medicare beneficiaries can make changes to their healthcare coverage.. This enrollment period happens each year from October 15th – December 7th. During the annual enrollment period, you can:

  • Switch your Medicare Advantage Plan
  • Sign up for a Medicare Advantage or Medicare Supplement plan for the first time
  • Pick up or drop a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan  (Medicare Part D)

Changes made during the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period will take effect in January of the following year.

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