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Medicare Advantage Enrollment Periods

Medicare Advantage Enrollment Periods

Most Medicare beneficiaries are vaguely familiar with the fact that there are specific timeframes they must use to enroll in Medicare for the first time or change their current coverage. It’s pretty easy to get lost when trying to navigate those enrollment periods. Do you have to participate in every one of them? Do they all apply to you? What happens if you miss one?

And then, of course, Medicare loves acronyms! IEP, ICEP, AEP, SEP, OEP…it’s easy to see why this is confusing. However, as confusing as it is, you’ll need to understand which enrollment periods are important, as missing one could lead to gaps in your healthcare coverage.

Today, we’re going to outline a few of the most important enrollment periods for you to know, especially when it comes to Medicare Advantage. Don’t worry; we won’t ask you to memorize them. If you’re using an independent broker like Giardini Medicare, we’ll always let you know when an important enrollment period is approaching.

Initial Enrollment Period (IEP)

The IEP applies to everyone, not just those on Medicare Advantage. Your unique IEP begins three full months before the month of your 65th birthday and ends three full months after it. During this time, you can enroll in Medicare Parts A and B, as well as other forms of coverage.

If you enroll before the month of your birthday, your coverage will begin on the first day of your birthday month. However, if your birthday falls on the first, your coverage begins the month prior. For example, if you turn 65 on April 1, your Medicare coverage starts on March 1.

If you choose to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, that coverage can also start on the first of the month.

Initial Coverage Election Period (ICEP)

This enrollment period is a little confusing. It’s similarly named to the one above, and it overlaps with the IEP, too. ICEP relates to Medicare Advantage enrollment only.

Your ICEP begins three months before your 65th birthday or three months before your 25th month of receiving Social Security Disability Income. It ends on either the last day of the month before your entitlement to Parts A and B or the last day of your Part B IEP, whichever is later.

The reason ICEP is different than IEP is that some people choose to postpone Medicare Part B enrollment past their 65th birthday. If you’re still working and covered by an employer’s group plan, many people choose to stay on that plan rather than transition to Medicare. When that coverage does end, they enroll in Part B.

Annual Election Period (AEP)

AEP is an important enrollment period for nearly every Medicare beneficiary. It runs from October 15 through December 7. If you’re enrolled in either Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D, you don’t want to miss the AEP.

Why? Medicare Advantage and Part D plans are annual contracts that run from January 1 through December 31. That means they can change each year. And most of the time, they do. Insurance companies constantly compete with each other to offer better rates or more benefits. Your current Medicare Advantage plan could change its premium, deductible, network, cost-sharing amounts, or extra benefits.

You’ll want to spend a few minutes evaluating the changes that are happening in your plan and see if there is another plan on the market that might work better for you. If you decide you want to stay with your current plan, it will automatically renew for the new year.

During the AEP, you can also switch from Medicare Advantage back to Original Medicare or enroll in Medicare Advantage for the first time. Regardless of what you choose, your new coverage will start on January 1.

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (MA-OEP)

MA-OEP is for current Medicare Advantage plan members only. It occurs every year from January 1 through March 31. During that time, you can make a one-time change to your Medicare Advantage plan or switch back to Original Medicare. The change goes into effect on the first day of the month after you make the switch.

If you’re new to Medicare and chose to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan for the first time, you’ll have another kind of MA-OEP for three months after your effective date. This one is best explained using an example.

Ms. Turner turned 65 on May 5. She had not previously been eligible for Medicare and became entitled to Part A and B on May 1. In April, she enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan without prescription drug coverage. Coverage started on May 1. Since Ms. Turner enrolled in MA during her ICEP, she is granted an MA-OEP from May 1 through July 31. During that time, she can choose to enroll in a different MA plan or move back to Original Medicare.

We hope that has helped you sort through some of the Medicare Advantage enrollment periods. Not sure if you qualify? Talk to one of the Medicare Nerds at Giardini Medicare! We’ll keep you up-to-date on enrollment periods and let you know about important Medicare changes.

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