2 people discussing the 4 key medicare enrollment periods

Authors: Jim Soucy and Linda Gaetgens

If you turn 65 next year, don’t forget your Medicare benefits. Enrolling requires you to do so during a valid “election period.” While there are many periods available, we will focus on those opportunities for people who are enrolling for the first time or who may need a change to their Medicare plan during a plan year.

So, what are the key enrollment periods, and how do you best utilize this timing?

Initial Election Period

What is the Initial Election Period or “IEP?” It is the first time someone is allowed to enroll in Medicare and supplemental coverage. The IEP is a 7-month window, typically surrounding a person’s 65th birthday. It starts three months before a person turns 65 and continues for three months after their birthday.

How do you enroll in your IEP? First, contact Social Security three months before your 65th birthday, and they will manually register you into Medicare.

What happens if someone receives Social Security benefits before becoming Medicare eligible? In that situation, enrollment is automatic. A Medicare card will arrive in the mail 3 to 4 months before the month of their 65th birthday. The card will be effective on the 1st of the month they turn 65. However, if their birthday is on the 1st, their Medicare card will be effective on the 1st day of the month before turning 65.

While the IEP for most people surrounds their 65th birthday, it may occur at a younger age if they receive Social Security benefits due to disability.

Annual Enrollment Period

The Annual Enrollment Period, or AEP, begins on October 15th and runs through December 7th. This enrollment period allows a Medicare beneficiary to enroll in a Part C plan or Prescription Drug plan, a current Medicare Advantage Part C plan, or a Prescription Drug Part D plan enrollee to make changes to their plan selection. The changes they make are effective January 1st of the upcoming year. Otherwise, current selections will automatically renew for the next year unless the plan receives written notification to the contrary.

Open Enrollment Period

The Open Enrollment Period (OEP) begins January 1st and ends March 31st. This enrollment period allows participants to make significant changes to their plans. For example, a person enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Part C plan may switch to another Medicare Advantage plan available in their service area. They can also disenroll from Medicare Advantage and return to only Original Medicare with a Part D prescription drug plan.

During the OEP, changes will take effect the month after submission. If an individual submits a change in January, the updated plan is effective February 1st; changes made in February are effective March 1st; and so forth.

Special Election Periods

Many Medicare Special Election Periods (SEPs) allow individuals to change their plans when life events occur. Here are a few examples:

  • Someone loses their job-based health insurance and is Medicare eligible. In that case, they may enroll in Original Medicare and Medicare supplement insurance using a SEP.
  • A person has enrolled in Medicare and Medicare supplement coverage and moves out of the service area; they will have a SEP to update their plan options.
  • For a Medicare five-star plan in a person’s service area, an enrollee can join that plan anytime during the year.
  • If Medicare considers a person “low income,” they will have a once-per-quarter SEP that they can use to change their plan during the year.

Should you have any questions about Medicare or Medicare Election Periods, don’t hesitate to enroll in our free on-demand webinar.