Initial Enrollment Period
This is the period when you’re first eligible to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, and usually takes place at the same time as your Initial Enrollment Period for Original Medicare. It starts three months before you turn 65 and ends three months after your 65th birthday. To enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan you must have both Medicare Parts A and B and live within the service area of a Medicare Advantage plan.
Medicare open enrollment and election periods
Both Original Medicare and private Medicare-approved insurance companies have certain times of the year when you can enroll or make changes to your coverage. These include:
- General Enrollment Period: This is the period when you can enroll in Medicare Part A and/or Part B if you didn’t do so when you were first eligible. It occurs every year from January 1 to March 31. You may have to pay a late-enrollment penalty for Medicare Part A and/or Part B, unless you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period (described in the next section). During this time, if you’re in a Medicare Advantage Plan and want to change your health plan, you can do one of these:
- Switch to a different Medicare Advantage Plan with or without drug coverage
- Go back to Original Medicare and, if needed, also join a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan
- Annual Enrollment Period: This is a period when you can switch from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage coverage or vice versa, add or drop prescription drug coverage, switch plans, or disenroll from Medicare Advantage to return to Original Medicare. The Annual Election Period takes place every year from October 15 to December 7.
Medicare special enrollment and election periods
Outside of regular enrollment and election periods, you have limited opportunities to enroll or make changes to your Medicare coverage unless you qualify for one of the periods described below.
- Special Enrollment Period: You’re allowed to make changes to your Medicare Advantage plan or Medicare prescription drug coverage in certain situations. These may include but aren’t limited to: moving out of your plan’s service area, losing Medicaid eligibility or Medicare terminating your plan’s contract.
- 5-Star Special Election Period: From December 8 to November 30 of the following year, you can switch to a Medicare Advantage plan, Medicare prescription drug plan or Medicare Cost plan that Medicare has given a 5-star overall rating. You can only use this Special Election Period once during this timeframe.
Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period: If you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan and change your mind, you can disenroll during January 1 to March 31. During this period you can return to Original Medicare and, if needed, also join a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan. You can also use this time to switch to a different Medicare Advantage Plan with or without drug coverage.
Depending on the nature of the particular Special Enrollment Period, an individual may also disenroll from an MA plan and enroll into Original Medicare.
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