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Medicare Enrollment Periods in 2021

One of the most confusing aspects of Medicare is understanding the various Medicare enrollment periods. However, it is very important to be familiar with them.

Many people sign up for Medicare during their Initial Enrollment Period (IEP), as choosing to delay your Medicare enrollment could potentially result in being faced with late enrollment fees in the future.

What You Should Know About Enrolling in Medicare

When exactly you can enroll in Medicare depends on many factors. Which type of Medicare you are signing up for (Original, Advantage, or Medigap), whether or not you are receiving Social Security benefits, and whether you are receiving health coverage through an employer or a spouse can all affect your enrollment periods. 

If you want to get a better understanding of which enrollment periods apply to you, reach out to a licensed insurance agent here at Medicare Plans Direct.

When can you enroll in Medicare?

The following Medicare Enrollment Periods can help give you a better idea of when you should sign up for Medicare. Just keep in mind that every situation is unique. That’s why it’s best to consult with an expert regarding your specific enrollment periods.

Initial Enrollment Period (IEP)

The Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) is your first opportunity to sign up for Medicare. This is when many people choose to enroll in Part A and Part B, along with Part D prescription drug coverage, and doing so at this time can help you to avoid late enrollment fees. 

Your IEP lasts seven months: it begins three months before you turn 65, includes your birthday month, and continues for three months after your birthday month. 

But even if you sign up for Medicare during the three months leading up to your 65th birthday, coverage won’t begin until your birthday month. 

If you miss your Initial Enrollment Period, you do have other opportunities to sign up for Medicare. However, you may face Part A and Part B late enrollment penalty fees.

Initial Coverage Election Period (ICEP)

The Initial Coverage Election Period is the time when people who are newly eligible for Medicare can enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan

Your ICEP begins three months before you become eligible for Medicare. However, it can finalize in two ways (whichever comes 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 (which is the seven month period that begins three months before you turn 65, includes your birthday month, and continues three months after your birthday month)

It’s good to keep your ICEP in mind if you think you may want to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan right when you become eligible for Medicare. However, if you don’t choose to sign up for Part C at this time, you have the option to do so in the future during the fall Open Enrollment Period (OEP) that takes place from mid-October to early-December each year.

Special Enrollment Period (SEP)

Special Enrollment Periods are situation-dependent enrollment periods. They vary for each person depending on their individual circumstances. Because of that, they can be one of the most confusing aspects of Medicare enrollment. 

A Special Enrollment Period, or SEP, occurs if you were allowed to delay your enrollment in Original Medicare (Part A and Part B), a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C), or a Medicare drug plan (Part D). 

You may have a SEP if you were receiving creditable health care coverage from an employer while you were over the age of 65. In this case, you are allowed to enroll in Medicare after your IEP without facing any penalty fees.  

Another situation in which a SEP applies is if you are moving outside of your Medicare Advantage Plan’s service area. If this is the case for you and you inform your plan before you move, your SEP occurs during the month prior to your move and the two months after your move. If you inform your plan after you move, this period begins the month that you inform your plan and continues for two additional months.  

There are numerous other situations in which Special Enrollment Periods apply. If you think you may qualify for a SEP but aren’t quite sure, contact a team member at Medicare Plans Direct today.


General Enrollment Period (GEP)

If you didn’t sign up for Original Medicare during your IEP or an SEP, you have the opportunity to do so during the General Enrollment Period (GEP). This occurs from January 1st to March 31st every year. Just know that if you enroll in Medicare during this period, your coverage won’t start until July 1st. 

However, if you failed to enroll in Medicare during your Initial Enrollment Period or a Special Enrollment Period (if the latter applies to you), you may face Part A and Part B late enrollment penalty fees.

Annual Election Period/Open Enrollment Period (OEP)

The Medicare Open Enrollment Period (OEP), also referred to as the Annual Election Period, lasts from October 15th to December 7th each year.

During this time, you can:

  • Switch to a Medicare Advantage plan (Part C), as long as you are already enrolled in Medicare Part A and B
  • Switch back to Original Medicare (Part A and B) if you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan and would like to leave it
  • Switch to a new Medicare Advantage plan if you are already enrolled in one 
  • Drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan if you have already enrolled in/are enrolling in Original Medicare (Part A and B)

Any changes that you make to your Medicare plan during the Annual Election Period will become effective January 1st of the following year.

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

The Medicare Advantage (Part C) Open Enrollment Period occurs at the same time as the General Enrollment Period: January 1-March 31 each year. During this period, you are able to change Medicare Advantage plans or go back to Original Medicare.

If you modify your coverage during this time, your new plan will come into effect the first day of the month following the month during which you made the change. 

Additionally, if you are switching from a Medicare Advantage plan to Original Medicare, you may be able to enroll in a Medigap policy at the same time. However, if you are outside your Medigap Open Enrollment Period, insurance companies are not required to accept your Medicare Supplement Insurance application.

Medigap Open Enrollment Period

Your Medigap Open Enrollment Period automatically begins the month you turn 65 (as long as you enrolled in Part B). It lasts for six months (your birthday month included). 

This is usually the ideal time to enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan. During this time, you are allowed to enroll in any Medigap plan offered in your state regardless of health issues.

So when should you sign up for Medicare?

While we wish the answer to this question were simple, it very much depends on your individual circumstances. Though the ideal time for most people to sign up for Medicare is when they turn 65, this may not be the case for everyone. 

For example, if you are still working and your younger spouse is on your coverage, leaving your employer coverage and enrolling in Medicare may mean that your spouse would have to pay much more for health insurance on their own. As you can see, delaying Medicare can make sense in some specific cases. 

If you are seeking guidance regarding Medicare Enrollment Periods and how they affect you, reach out to our experienced team for a free consultation.

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