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Do You Need to Sign Up for Medicare Supplement Plans during the Annual Election Period (AEP)?

The Medicare Annual Election Period runs from October 15 to December 7 every year. During this time, you can make certain changes to your Medicare coverage. For example, you can:

  • Switch to Medicare Advantage from Original Medicare
  • Switch to Original Medicare from a Medicare Advantage plan
  • Switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another
  • Enroll in a Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan
  • Switch from one Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan to a different one
  • Drop Medicare Part D coverage for prescription drugs

Note that in 2019, there is a new Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period which runs from January 1 to March 31 each year. During this period, people enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan can make a one-time election to a different plan or to Original Medicare. If they lose Part D prescription drug coverage during the switch, they can add it during that time, as well.

The Medicare Annual Election Period generally does not apply to Medicare Supplement plans. Medicare Supplement plans have a separate Open Enrollment Period.

Why would I want Medicare Supplement plans?

Medicare Supplement Plans help cover your out-of-pocket costs under Original Medicare (Part A and Part B). Original Medicare has no out-of-pocket maximum, meaning that you could face staggering out-of-pocket costs without supplement insurance. If you think you want protection from these costs with a Medicare Supplement Plan, it’s important to be aware of your guaranteed issue rights and when you can buy a plan.

When can I buy Medicare Supplement Plans?

Medicare Supplement Plans have their own open enrollment period, which starts the month you are both age 65 or over and enrolled in Part B. The Medicare Supplement open enrollment period lasts six months. During this time, you have guaranteed issue rights to buy any Medicare Supplement Plans sold in your state, regardless of your health condition. The insurance company also generally cannot increase your premium based on your health conditions.

If you wait to buy the coverage after your open enrollment period, you may lose these guaranteed issue rights. That means that insurance companies can make you undergo medical underwriting before selling you Medicare Supplement Plans. If you have certain serious or chronic health problems, you might be turned down for the plan you want, or denied coverage altogether. If the company decides to offer you coverage, it may charge you so much in monthly premiums that the plan is unaffordable.

Buying Medicare Supplement Plans as soon as you are eligible may be the only way to get affordable Medicare Supplement coverage.

Can I sign up for Medicare Supplement Plans if I switch from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare?

You may have guaranteed issue rights to buy Medicare Supplement Plans if you switch from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare, but only in very limited situations:

  • You are in a Medicare Advantage plan that stops operating in your area and you switch to Original Medicare
  • You move out of your Medicare Advantage plan’s service area and switch to Original Medicare
  • You joined a Medicare Advantage plan when you first became eligible at age 65, but decide to switch to Original Medicare within the first year
  • You dropped a Medicare Supplement plan to switch to Medicare Advantage, and within the first year, you decide to switch back to Original Medicare
  • You leave a Medicare Advantage plan that has violated Medicare rules or misled you about your plan

Note that you may be limited to certain Medicare Supplement Plans in these situations, and that your guaranteed issue rights are time-sensitive. In most cases, you can apply for Medicare Supplement Plans up to 60 day before your existing Medicare Advantage coverage ends and up to 63 days after.

To begin looking for a Medicare Supplement plan in your area, enter your zip code on this page.

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