Medicare explained4 surprising benefits to Medicare Advantage plans
Knowing exactly when to enroll in a Medicare Advantage or prescription drug plan can be complicated.
Medicare Advantage and prescription drug plans
If you recently became eligible for Medicare, you can apply for coverage through a Medicare Advantage or prescription drug plan close to the beginning of your Medicare Part A or B coverage. This enrollment period is your Initial Coverage Election Period (ICEP) or Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). If you are unsure when your Medicare Part A or B coverage begins, look at the lower right corner of your red, white and blue Medicare card.
Your Medicare Advantage or prescription drug coverage can't start before your Medicare Part A or B coverage begins. Generally, you have a 7-month period to apply for Medicare Advantage or prescription drug coverage.
You can apply for a Medicare Advantage plan 3 months before, the month of, or 3 months after the month your Medicare Part A and B coverage begins. If your Medicare Part A and Part B coverage begin on different dates, use the later coverage date. However, if your Medicare Part B coverage begins after your Part A coverage, you only have the 3 months before your Part B start date to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan. If you miss this 3-month enrollment period, you may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP).
You can apply for a prescription drug plan 3 months before, the month of, or 3 months after the month your Medicare Part A and B coverage begins. If your Medicare Part A and Part B coverage begin on different dates, use the earlier coverage date. If you miss enrolling in a prescription drug plan using your earlier coverage date, you may qualify for an SEP.
If you’ve been eligible for Medicare for a while, your options are different depending on the time of the year. Those options include:
Annual Enrollment Period (October 15 – December 7)
The Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) begins on October 15 and ends on December 7 each year. During AEP, you can enroll, disenroll or change your Medicare Advantage plan, prescription drug plan, or Medicare Supplement plan. You can also return to Original Medicare. Elections made during AEP are effective on January 1 of the following year.
Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period (January 1 – February 14)
You can use this time period to leave a Medicare Advantage plan and return to your Original Medicare benefits offered by the federal government. You may also enroll in a stand-alone prescription drug plan if you return to Original Medicare. However, you cannot switch from one prescription drug plan to another prescription drug plan.
February 15 – October 14
February 15 through October 14 is the lock-in period. Between February 15 and October 14 you cannot change coverage, unless you qualify for an SEP. If you do not qualify for an SEP, you can elect new coverage during AEP for a January 1 effective date.
Special Enrollment Period (SEP)
During an SEP, you can enroll, disenroll or change your coverage because of your circumstances.
Common SEP reasons include:
- A permanent move
- Becoming eligible for Medicare and Medicaid
- Entering a nursing home
- Low income
- Involuntarily losing creditable prescription drug coverage
- Leaving your employer group health plan
Learn more about Medicare eligibility here:
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- Check out this , opens new window article for more information about Medicare enrollment periods.
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- Download “Medicare & You” to access Medicare & You in multiple formats.
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- Click the Publications link for Medicare resources in English and Spanish, PDF and audio formats.
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