Generally, you can only enroll in, switch, or disenroll from a Medicare Advantage plan during specific times of the year. Outside of when you first become eligible to enroll, and election periods that happen annually, your opportunities to make changes to your health coverage may be limited.

Read more about the election and disenrollment periods associated with Medicare Advantage plans.

Initial Coverage Election Period

You’re first eligible to enroll in Medicare Advantage during your Initial Coverage Election Period (ICEP). For most people, this period occurs at the same time as their Initial Enrollment Period for Original Medicare, Part A and Part B. In this case, if you’re eligible when you turn 65, you can sign up during the 7-month period that begins 3 months before the month you turn 65, includes the month you turn 65, and ends 3 months after the month you turn 65.

For example, Mrs. Donovan’s 65th birthday is June 20, 2009. She is eligible for Medicare Part A and Part B beginning June 1, 2009 and has decided to enroll in Part B beginning on June 1. Her ICEP begins on March 1, 2009 and ends on September 30, 2009.

To be eligible to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, you must:

  • Have Medicare Part A and be enrolled in Part B, provided that you will be entitled to receive services under Medicare Part A and Part B as of the effective date of coverage under the plan.
  • Permanently reside in the service area of the Medicare Advantage plan (exceptions may apply for persons living outside the service area at time of the enrollment request).
  • Not have been medically determined to have End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) prior to completing the enrollment request.
  • You or a legal representative completes an enrollment request and includes all the information required to process the enrollment or meets alternative conditions for enrollment specified by Medicare.

If you delay enrollment in Original Medicare, Part A and/or Part B, your Initial Coverage Election Period starts three months before you’re enrolled in Part B and lasts only three months.  For example, Mrs. Donovan was eligible to enroll in Medicare Part B in June 2009.  She chose to delay her enrollment.  She enrolled in Medicare Part B effective July 1, 2015.  Her Initial Coverage Election Period is April 1 – June 30, 2015.

Annual Election Period

During the Annual Election Period (AEP), Medicare Advantage-eligible individuals may enroll in or disenroll from a Medicare Advantage plan. The AEP runs from October 15 through December 7 of each year. It is the one enrollment period that occurs each year. The AEP is also referred to as the “Fall Open Enrollment” season in Medicare beneficiary publications and other tools. Outside of this period, you may be more limited in the types of changes you can make.

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

Medicare Advantage plan enrollees have an annual opportunity to disenroll from their plan and return to Original Medicare between January 1 and March 31 of every year. The effective date of a disenrollment request made during the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period will be the first of the month following the Medicare Advantage Plan’s receipt of the disenrollment request. A request made in January will be effective February 1, and a request made in February will be effective March 1. The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period is also an opportunity to switch Medicare Advantage plans.

Regardless of whether the Medicare Advantage plan included Part D drug coverage, Medicare Advantage enrollees using the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period are eligible to enroll in a stand-alone Medicare prescription drug plan during the same time frame.

Special Election Periods

In addition, you may be able to change your Medicare Advantage coverage by qualifying for a Special Election Period (SEP). This lets you enroll in, switch, or disenroll from plans without waiting for the Annual Election Period or the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period that occurs each year. Some situations that may qualify you for a Special Election Period include, but aren’t limited to, if you:

  • Move out of your plan’s service area.
  • Qualify for the Low-Income Subsidy (Extra Help) program.
  • Have full Medicaid coverage and Medicare.
  • Live in a nursing home, skilled nursing facility, or rehabilitation hospital.

Reviewing your Medicare options

If you would like to enroll in a different Medicare Advantage plan during the next Annual Election Period, it is a good idea to review all available plan options in your area to find one that best suits your needs. As you can see, when you enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, the timing is important.

To get started, simply click the Get Quotes button to schedule a phone call or to request a personalized email.