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Medicare Advantage Enrollment Periods, Including the Initial Coverage Election Period (ICEP)

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The Initial Coverage Election Period (ICEP) is when you’re first eligible to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan. A Medicare Advantage plan (also known as Medicare Part C) is another way to get your Original Medicare benefits, through a private insurance company.

Eligibility for the Initial Coverage Election Period

To sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan:

  • You must have Medicare Part A and Part B.
  • You must permanently reside in the service area of the plan you’d like to enroll in.
  • You cannot have end-stage renal disease (ESRD) in most cases. There are exceptions. If you have ESRD and wish to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, contact Medicare and see if you qualify (contact information is at the end of this article).

If you’re joining a Special Needs Plan, you may have additional eligibility criteria. A Special Needs Plan is a special type of Medicare Advantage plan for people with certain needs. Eligibility requirements are dependent upon Special Needs Plan type and can include having a chronic health condition, having Medicaid, and living in an institution, such as a nursing home.

Generally, you’re eligible for Part A and Part B:

  • At age 65.
  • As of your 25th month of disability benefits.
  • As of the first month that you start receiving disability benefits based on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Remember that if you enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, you must continue to pay your Part B premium. This is in addition to any premium your Medicare Advantage plan may require.

When your Initial Coverage Election Period occurs

The timing of your ICEP depends on when you enroll in Part A and Part B.

For many people, the Initial Coverage Election Period takes place at the same time as their Initial Enrollment Period. The Initial Enrollment Period is the seven-month period starting three months before you’re eligible for Part A and Part B. For most people, the month they’re eligible for Medicare is the month they turn 65. For example, if you turn 65 in May, your IEP goes from February 1 to August 31. If you enroll in Part A and Part B during your IEP, then your Initial Coverage Election Period is the same as your Initial Enrollment Period, lasting seven months.

However, the duration and timing of your ICEP change if you delay Part B enrollment. Some beneficiaries don’t sign up for Part B when they’re first eligible because they already have other health coverage, such as through an employer’s group plan. Because having both Part A and Part B is required to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, your Initial Coverage Election Period wouldn’t take place until you’re enrolled in Part B.

Those who delay Part B enrollment can sign up later, during the General Enrollment Period (January 1 to March 31 each year) or, if applicable, during a Special Enrollment Period. If you get Part B outside of your Initial Enrollment Period, your ICEP is the three-month period before your Part B start date, ending the last day of the month before your Part B coverage starts. For example, if your Part B start date is September 1, your ICEP goes from June 1 to August 31.

Other enrollment periods for Medicare Advantage plans

If you missed or didn’t use your Initial Coverage Election Period, you can still enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, as long as you meet the eligibility criteria. You may join a Medicare Advantage plan during the following periods:

  • Annual Election Period(AEP): Also called Open Enrollment Period for Medicare Advantage and Medicare prescription drug coverage, this is the period when beneficiaries can enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, switch plans, add prescription drug coverage, or disenroll from a Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare. It occurs every year from October 15 to December 7.
  • Special Election Period: This enrollment allows beneficiaries to make changes to Medicare Advantage plan coverage outside of the regular enrollment periods. Eligibility for Special Election Periods are limited to specific situations, such as moving out of a plan’s coverage area, and can take place throughout the year.

Another related enrollment period is the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period(OEP), which takes place from January 1 to March 31 every year. During this period you can drop your current Medicare Advantage plan coverage, return to Original Medicare, and add a stand-alone Medicare prescription drug plan (Part D). If you’re in a Medicare Advantage plan,  you can also switch to another Medicare Advantage plan.

Enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan

If you meet all of the Medicare Advantage plan eligibility requirements, you can use your Initial Coverage Election Period to enroll in a plan. Medicare Advantage plan enrollment works differently than joining Original Medicare because these plans are offered through private insurance companies.

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