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When to Enroll in Medicare Advantage or Prescription Drug Plans

Important dates and information about when you can enroll

Picking the right type of healthcare or prescription drug coverage can be tricky, especially now that you have so many more choices. Depending on what type of plan you want to enroll in, the time of the year it is, and when you became eligible for Part A or B of Medicare, your options may be limited. Keep reading to find out what the rules are.

Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug Plans

If you recently became eligible for Medicare, through age or disability, you generally have the option to apply for coverage in a Medicare Advantage plan or prescription drug plan close to the date when your Medicare Part A or B coverage starts.This is called your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). If you are unsure what those dates are, look at the lower right corner of your red, white and blue Medicare card.

Your coverage can't start before your Part A or B coverage begins. However, you generally have a period of seven months to apply for coverage in a Medicare Advantage or prescription drug plan.

  • For Medicare Advantage plans you can apply for coverage three months before, the month of, or three months after your Part B coverage starts. You must be enrolled in both Part A and Part B.
  • For prescription drug plans you can apply for coverage three months before, the month of, or three months after the earliest dates of which your Part A or Part B coverage starts.

If you didn't recently become eligible for Medicare, your options are different depending on the time of the year.

Annual Enrollment Period (October 15 – December 7)

The Annual Election Period runs from October 15 through December 7 each year. During this time, known as the "AEP," Medicare beneficiaries may change prescription drug plans, change Medicare Advantage plans, return to Original Medicare, or enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan for the first time. Coverage for enrollment changes takes effect on January 1.

Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period (January 1 – February 14)

You can use this time period to return to your Original Medicare benefits offered by the federal government. You may also enroll in a stand-alone prescription drug plan.

February 15 – October 14

Between February 15 and October 14 each year you will not be able to switch coverage. This time is often referred to as the "lock-in" period, unless you qualify under a special enrollment circumstance. During this period, you generally must stay with your current coverage until January 1, when any new coverage you choose, between October 15 – December 7 begins.

Special Enrollment Period (SEP)

Even if you didn't recently become eligible for Medicare, some exceptions allow you to enroll in a prescription drug plan or Medicare Advantage plan any time during the year.

Examples of special enrollment circumstances include, but are not limited to individuals:

  • Who were enrolled in a plan and recently moved
  • Who entered a nursing home
  • Who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid
  • With low income
  • Who are disenrolling from an employer group health plan
  • Who involuntarily lost creditable prescription drug coverage.
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