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Medicare Advantage Enrollment Periods in 2021

There are various Medicare Advantage Enrollment Periods:

  • Initial Coverage Election Period (ICEP): This is your first opportunity to enroll in Medicare Part C.
  • Annual Election Period (AEP): Also referred to as the Open Enrollment Period (OEP), this period lasts from October 15-December 7 each year. During this time you can join a new Medicare Advantage plan, switch to a different plan, or drop your current plan.
  • Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period: This period takes place at the same time as the Medicare General Enrollment Period (GEP), from January 1-March 31. During this time you can change Medicare Advantage plans or drop your current plan and return to Original Medicare
  • Special Enrollment Period (SEP): Special Enrollment Periods can occur for a number of reasons, such as if you move out of your plan’s service area or have chosen to delay your Medicare enrollment because you had health care coverage with your employer.

Enrolling During Your Initial Coverage Election Period (ICEP)

The first opportunity that you have to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan is called your Initial Coverage Election Period (ICEP).

Your ICEP begins at the same time as your Original Medicare Initial Election Period: three months before you become eligible for Medicare. This can either be three months before you turn 65 or three months before your 25th month receiving disability benefits). People commonly sign up for Medicare Advantage during their ICEP.

Your ICEP can finalize in one of two moments (whichever occurs later): 

  • The last day of the month before you become eligible for Part A and Part B
  • The last day of your Part B IEP (the seven month period that begins three months before you turn 65, includes your birthday month, and continues three months after your birthday month)

Enrolling Outside of Your Initial Coverage Election Period (ICEP)

Once your Initial Coverage Election Period has passed, you have a couple of other opportunities to enroll in Medicare Part C.

Medicare Annual Election Period/Open Enrollment Period

One opportunity to sign up for Medicare Advantage is during the Medicare Annual Election Period (AEP). Also known as the Open Enrollment Period (OEP), it takes place from October 15-December 7 each year. 

During this time, you can switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another, leave your current Medicare Advantage plan and go back to Original Medicare, or sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan if you aren’t already enrolled in one (as long as you are enrolled in Medicare Part A and B). 

If you modify your Part C coverage during the Annual Election Period, your new plan will come into effect on January 1st of the following year.

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

You can make a one-time change to your current Medicare Advantage plan during the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period. This occurs from January 1-March 31 each year.  

During this time, you can either change to another Part C plan or drop your coverage and return to Original Medicare. However, you are not allowed to sign up for a new Medicare Advantage plan if you aren’t already enrolled in one. If you modify your coverage during this period, the change will come into effect the month after the plan receives your request.

Medicare Advantage Special Enrollment Periods

There are also Special Enrollment Periods that apply to Medicare Advantage in certain situations. Some examples are if you move out of your Medicare Advantage plan’s coverage area or lose your employer coverage.

Medicare Advantage “Trial Period” SEPs

If you enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan during your ICEP, you are granted a 12-month trial period. This means that you are allowed to disenroll from Part C and sign up for Original Medicare. During this time you are also permitted to leave Medicare Advantage and enroll in a Medigap plan.

You also have the right to a Medicare Advantage trial period when you disenroll from a Medigap policy to join a Medicare Advantage plan for the first time. In this case, you have 12 months to change your mind and switch back to your previous Medigap plan if you would like (as long as it is still available in your area).

SEPs for Low-Income Individuals

If you earn a limited income, you may be eligible for a Special Enrollment Period.

If you qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid, you may have a Medicare Advantage Dual SEP. This permits you to join, switch, or drop a Medicare Advantage plan once per quarter during your first three quarters. During the fourth quarter, you can make changes during the Annual Enrollment Period. 

And if you are enrolled in a State Pharmaceutical Assistance Program (SPAP), you have the option to enroll in a Medicare drug plan or a Medicare Advantage plan with drug coverage once during the calendar year.

SEPs for Individuals With Disabilities or Chronic Conditions

Those who qualify for Medicare due to a disability/chronic disease or suffer from a debilitating condition may also be eligible for a SEP.

If you have a severe or disabling condition and there is a Special Needs Plan (SNP) that serves your condition, you can join that plan at any time. However, once you join said plan, your opportunity to make changes with this SEP ends.

Other Circumstances

There are numerous other circumstances that warrant a Special Enrollment Period, some of which include: 

  • Moving out of your current plan’s service area
  • A major disaster having impacted your enrollment
  • Residing in, or having recently left, a nursing home or rehabilitation center
  • Leaving coverage from your employer or union
  • Disenrolling from a PACE plan
  • And more

If you think you may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period, reach out to an experienced insurance agent at Medicare Plans Direct. We can address all of your Medicare Advantage enrollment questions and more.

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