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Medicare Part D Enrollment Periods in 2021

It is often advisable to enroll in Medicare prescription drug coverage when you are first eligible in order to avoid having to pay a late enrollment penalty. However, you do have multiple options when it comes to signing up for Part D prescription drug coverage:

  • Initial Enrollment Period (IEP): Your first opportunity to enroll in Medicare Part D. 
  • 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 prescription drug plan, switch to a different plan, or drop your drug coverage altogether. 
  • 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, if you drop your Medicare Advantage coverage and return to Original Medicare, you can enroll in a stand-alone Part D drug plan. 
  • Special Enrollment Period (SEP): Special Enrollment Periods can occur for a number of reasons. Some examples are moving in or out of a nursing home or rehab center, losing your Medicaid coverage, and leaving your employer coverage.

Enrolling During Your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP)

Many people choose to enroll in Medicare Part D during their IEP, as doing so can help you to avoid having to pay a late-enrollment fee. Enrolling in Part D when you first become eligible is quite straightforward, but you must be enrolled in Part A and/or Part B in order to do so. 

Your Medicare Part D IEP is usually the same as your Original Medicare IEP. This is the seven month period that begins three months before you turn 65, includes your birthday month, and extends for the three months after.

Enrolling Outside of Your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP)

If you don’t enroll in Part D coverage when you are first eligible, you have a couple of other opportunities throughout the year to do so.

Medicare Annual Election Period/Open Enrollment Period

You can make modifications to your Medicare drug coverage during the Medicare Annual Election Period (AEP). This is also referred to as the Open Enrollment Period (OEP).

The AEP lasts from October 15-December 7 each year. During this time, you can join a Medicare drug plan if you aren’t already enrolled in one, switch to a different drug plan, or drop your Medicare drug coverage completely.

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period occurs from January 1-March 31 each year. It allows you to join a Medicare drug plan if you are dropping your Medicare Advantage coverage to return to Original Medicare.

Medicare Part D Special Enrollment Periods

There are also numerous Special Enrollment Periods that allow you to enroll in Part D coverage at a time other than those listed above.

SEPs if You Qualify for Extra Help

If you qualify for Extra Help, also known as the Part D Low-Income Subsidy (LIS), you will likely be granted a Special Enrollment Period.

This SEP allows you to join, switch, or drop your Medicare drug coverage once per quarter during the first three quarters of the year. During the fourth quarter, you can make changes during the Annual Enrollment Period, or from October 15-December 7.

Your change will become effective the first day of the following month, though in the case of modifying during the fourth quarter, on January 1st of the following year.

SEPs if You’re Eligible for Both Medicare and Medicaid

If you are a low-income individual who is eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, you can join, switch, or drop your Medicare drug coverage once per quarter during the first three quarters of the year. During the fourth quarter, you can make changes during the Annual Enrollment Period (from October 15-December 7).

Your change will become effective the first day of the following month, though in the case of modifying during the fourth quarter, on January 1 of the following year.

SEPs if You Leave Your Employer Coverage

If you had creditable drug coverage with your employer and you retire or choose to leave your employer’s coverage, you will be granted a Special Enrollment Period. Your SEP will last for two full months after the month that your employer coverage finalizes. 

During this time, you will have the opportunity to join a Medicare drug plan as long as you are enrolled in Medicare Part A and/or Part B.

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
  • Enrolling in a PACE or SPAP plan
  • And more

If you think you may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period but aren’t entirely sure, get in contact with a licensed insurance agent here at Medicare Plans Direct. We can address all of your Medicare Part D enrollment questions and more.

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