Are you ready to make some needed changes to your Medicare coverage

Then you’ll need to know when to start making decisions and doing research on alternative plans. Read on to discover which enrollment period applies to you, when the periods begin and end, and when your requested changes will go into effect.

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What is the difference between an Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) and an Open Enrollment Period (OEP)?

Both the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period and the Open Enrollment Period are fixed periods of time during which you can enroll in Medicare coverage or make changes to your current plan. The concepts for both an Annual Enrollment Period and a Fall Open Enrollment Period are similar, though the periods during which they occur and the purposes they serve are different.

The Medicare Annual Enrollment Period, which occurs from October 15 to December 7 every year, allows Medicare beneficiaries to make changes to, enroll in, or drop Medicare Advantage, Medigap, and Part D plans. These changes, enrollments, or dis-enrollments take effect on January 1 of the following year and stay in effect until the end of that year. Check out the FAQ section below for more details on the changes you can make.

The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period occurs from January 1 to March 31. During this time, people enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan can switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan or switch to an Original Medicare plan. 

One caveat for this enrollment period is that you can only make one change to your plan during this time. That means you can commit to only one change in contrast to the various changes you can make during the Fall Open Enrollment Period. With that in mind, be sure to do research into which plan will work best for you and your situation.

The difference between OEP and AEP At A Glance:

The Annual Enrollment Period (Also known as Annual Election Period, Fall Open Enrollment Period, or simply Open Enrollment Period):

  • Occurs between October 15 and December 7 of each year, with coverage starting on January 1 of the following year.
  • You can change from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan or change from a Medicare Advantage Plan back to Original Medicare.
  • You can switch from one Medicare Advantage Plan to another Medicare Advantage Plan, or switch from a Medicare Advantage Plan without drug coverage to one that does and vice versa.
  • You can join a Medicare drug plan or drop your Medicare drug coverage.

The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period:

  • Occurs between January 1 and March 31, with changes to your plan going into effect on the 1st day of the following month.
  • You can switch from one Medicare Advantage Plan to another, whether those plans include drug coverage.
  • You can drop your Medicare Advantage Plan and return to Original Medicare. 
  • You can join a Medicare drug plan.

When is the Annual Election Period?

The Annual Election Period begins on October 15 and ends on December 7 every year. During this time of year, you will typically receive instructions in the mail regarding how to make healthcare changes. Information you can expect includes:

  • How to evaluate alternative health plan options
  • How to switch to a new plan
  • How to adding Medicare Supplement Insurance
  • How to initiate a plan disenrollment

If you can make changes during this time, those changes will go into effect on January 1st of the next year.

It is important to note that any changes you make to your healthcare coverage will affect various aspects of your plan, including your 

  • Deductible
  • Monthly premium
  • Prescription drug coverage

For the Medigap AEP, you can make as many changes as you would like, and they will go into effect on January 1 of the upcoming year, or when the Part B portion of your plan becomes active.

What is the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period?

The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period, as explained earlier, allows you to change Medicare Advantage plans or switch to an Original Medicare plan. The Open Enrollment Period begins on January 1 and ends on March 31, with any changes to your health insurance going into effect on the first day of the following month.

For the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period, you can take advantage of this period if you:

  • Are making a switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another Medicare Advantage plan.
  • Switch from a Medicare Advantage Plan to Original Medicare. 
  • Enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan during the Initial Enrollment Period, changed to a different Medicare Advantage Plan, or returned to Original Medicare during the first three months of you having Medicare.
  • Are looking to join a Medicare drug plan.

Take extra care when making changes during the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period, as you will only be able to make one change during this time. Once you have made that change, it will go into effect on the first day of the following month.

Who is eligible for Medicare open enrollment?

Medicare open enrollment is available to anyone who already has health insurance through Medicare. This includes anyone who first enrolled during the Initial Enrollment Period or a Special Enrollment Period. 

Can I Enroll in Medicare Outside of the Annual Election Period?

Yes, you can! There are different ways that you can enroll outside of the October 15–December 7 enrollment window.

The first of these is the Initial Enrollment Period, which is especially helpful if you’re looking to enroll in Medicare Part D for a prescription drug plan. When you turn 65, you will gain eligibility to enroll in Medicare, and you will have a seven-month window to enroll. The window begins three months before your birth month and ends three months after your birth month. So, if your birthday lands in April, your Initial Enrollment Period would begin on January 1 and end on July 31. 

Alternatively, suppose you are under the age of 65 but have a qualifying disability. In that case, your initial enrollment window begins three months before your 25th month of receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board benefits. This window ends three months after that 25th month.

The Initial Enrollment Period can cover sign up for Medicare Part A, Part B, Part C, and Part D coverage. However, during the Open Enrollment Period, you can make the following changes:

  • Switch from Medicare Parts A and B to a Part C plan.
  • Switch from Medicare Part C back to Parts A and B.
  • Join, drop, or switch to a Part D prescription drug plan.
  • Switch from a Medicare Part C plan to a new Part C plan.

The second way to enroll is through a Special Enrollment Period. The Special Enrollment Period is for people who have experienced any number of extenuating or life-changing circumstances. To see a list of circumstances that qualify you for Special Enrollment, visit www.medicare.gov. (To see if you are eligible for special enrollment, you can also call Medicare at 1 (800) MEDICARE. TTY users can call 1 (877) 486-2048.)

FAQ: Medicare AEP

When can I sign up for Medicare 2020?

You can sign up for Medicare during your initial enrollment period in 2020. Your initial enrollment period begins three months before your 65th birthday and extends three months after the month of your 65th birthday. 

What is an Annual Notice of Change (ANOC)?

An Annual Notice of Change is the notice you receive from your Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D prescription drug plan in late September. This notice is intended to give you important information regarding changes that might affect your current plan or plans that you wish to switch to during the Open Enrollment Period. These changes could affect your plan’s cost, coverage, or service area and will take effect on January 1 of the next year. It would be best to review the Annual Notice of Change carefully so that you can plan any changes accordingly and avoid getting stuck with a plan that doesn’t fit all of your needs.

Conclusion: Know the Enrollment Period That Applies to You, and Plan Accordingly.

Anytime late September or early October rolls around, it’s time to start keeping your eyes open for both the Annual Notice of Change and the start of either the Annual or Open Enrollment Period. There is plenty of time between October 15th and December 7th to do some homework and figure out which plans work best for you. However, don’t sleep on making decisions during these periods. Otherwise, you might lose out on some much-needed coverage.

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Updated November 28, 2020