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When can I sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan?

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Summary: You may able to sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan during four different periods: your Initial Enrollment Period, the Annual Enrollment Period, the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period, and a Special Enrollment Period.

Medicare Advantage plans are an increasingly popular choice among people with Medicare, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. In 2019, over one third of Medicare beneficiaries had signed up for a Medicare Advantage plan.

If you have Medicare or soon will be eligible for Medicare benefits, you may be looking to a Medicare Advantage plan to provide your benefits. Medicare Advantage plans provide many attractive features, including an out-of-pocket maximum and extra benefits such as routine dental, routine hearing, and prescription drug coverage.

There are generally 4 periods in which you can enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan or switch plans.

  1. Sign-up for a Medicare Advantage plan during your Initial Enrollment Period

For most people, the first time to sign up for Medicare Advantage is when they are turning 65. This time is the Initial Enrollment Period and it runs seven months, starting three months before the month you turn age 65, the month you become age 65 and ending three months after your birthday month.

You generally may enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan during your Initial Enrollment Period as long as you do not have End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). You will need to select  a Medicare Advantage plan where you live. (Generally people with ESRD receive their hospital and medical insurance from the government’s Original Medicare program.)

If you become eligible for Medicare under age 65 because of disability, you will receive a letter from Social Security saying when your Medicare coverage will begin. Social Security will automatically enroll you in Medicare Part A and Part B. Your Medicare coverage typically starts 24 months after your disability benefits were approved. Usually you will be able to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan at this time. When you turn age 65, you’ll be entitled to a second seven-month Initial Enrollment Period — this time based on your age instead of disability. You get to start over and may choose to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan available where you live.

  1. Sign-up for a Medicare Advantage plan during the Annual Enrollment Period: Oct. 15 through Dec. 7

Each year during the Annual Enrollment Period you have the opportunity to review your existing Medicare coverage and, if you desire, change to a different Medicare Advantage plan offered by a Medicare approved private insurer or switch to the government-administered Medicare Part A and Part B program. You can use the Annual Enrollment Period to:

  • Change your coverage from the government-administered Medicare Part A and Part B program to a Medicare Advantage plan. Or switch from a Medicare Advantage plan to the government-administered Medicare program.
  • Change from one Medicare Advantage plan to another.
  • Enroll in a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan if you change from a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan to the government-administered Medicare Part A and Part B program.
  1. Change plans during the Medicare Advantage Plan Open Enrollment Period: January 1 through March 31

If you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, you can change Medicare Advantage plans during this time. Or, you can switch back to Medicare Part A and Part B and replace your Medicare Advantage prescription drug coverage with a standalone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan.

  1. Sign-up for a Medicare Advantage plan during a Special Enrollment Period

Usually you can enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan (or change Medicare Advantage plans) under special circumstances that involve changes resulting from life events or a loss of insurance coverage. Listed below are some of the common circumstances that can trigger a Special Enrollment Period.

  • Permanent relocation. If you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan and you move outside the plan’s service area, you are eligible to enroll in another Medicare Advantage plan where you live or return to the government-administered Medicare Part A and Part B.
  • Enroll in a five-star Medicare Advantage plan. If you are currently enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, generally you can change to a five-star Medicare Advantage plan that serves the area where you live from December 8 through November 30. But you can only use this Special Enrollment Period once during the time frame.
  • Low Income. If you are dually enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan and Medicaid, you may be able to enroll, disenroll, or switch to another Medicare Advantage plan once per quarter during the first three quarters of the year.
  • Long-term care residency. If you reside in a nursing home, skilled nursing facility, rehabilitation facility, or other long-term facility, you may be eligible to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan or change Medicare Advantage plans as frequently as once a month (although this frequency is not recommended).
  • Loss of insurance coverage through no fault. If you are eligible for Medicare and deferred enrolling in Medicare Part B because you had insurance coverage through an employer or union-sponsored group health plan, you may be able to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan when you sign-up for Medicare Part B.

Would you like to learn more about Medicare Advantage plans available where you live? Simply enter your zip code and select search Medicare Advantage plans.

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