Medicare Open Enrollment

Medicare open enrollment is the window of time when Medicare beneficiaries can make changes to their health insurance. It occurs from October 15 to December 7 every year.

Jeanine Skowronski

Jeanine Skowronski

Published June 21, 2018

Medicare open enrollment is the annual window of time during which Medicare beneficiaries can make changes to their health care plans and prescription drug coverage. It occurs from October 15 to December 7 every year with new plan selections slated to go into effect January 1.

What is Medicare open enrollment?

Medicare has several different enrollment windows. Open enrollment, also known as the annual enrollment period or annual election period (AEP), is when current Medicare beneficiaries can make changes to their coverage. More specifically, they can:

  • Switch to a Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage) plan from Original Medicare (Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B)
  • Switch to Original Medicare from a Medicare Advantage plan
  • Switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another
  • Switch from one Medicare Part D (prescription drug) plan to another
  • Enroll in a Medicare prescription drug plan if they’re on Original Medicare and need one

Learn more about the Medicare enrollment and application process.

When is open enrollment for Medicare?

Medicare open enrollment takes place every Fall. It starts on October 15 and ends on December 7. Medicare open enrollment for 2018 took place in 2017. Medicare open enrollment for 2019 starts on Oct. 15, 2018 and ends on Dec. 7, 2018. Changes you make during that period go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

Looking into new options? Our partner Via Benefits can help you compare and buy Medicare plans in your area.

Who can apply during Medicare open enrollment?

Medicare open enrollment is for current Medicare beneficiaries. It’s the window of in time in which they can make changes to their current elections and specific health care plan for the following year.

Newly eligible Medicare beneficiaries do not apply or sign up for Medicare during open enrollment. Instead, they are given a seven-month initial enrollment period to apply. This initial enrollment period starts three months before you turn 65, includes the month of your birthday and ends three months after that month, though Americans who are 65 and already receiving federal retirement benefits get automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B (Original Medicare).

If you miss your initial enrollment period, you generally have to wait until the Medicare general enrollment period to sign up for Original Medicare. General enrollment takes place from January 1 to March 31 each year. Coverage goes into effect on July 1 of the year you enroll. If you miss initial enrollment, you might have to pay a higher premium for Medicare Part A and most likely will pay a higher premium for Medicare Part B.

What happens if I miss Medicare open enrollment?

You might get stick with the health insurance you had the prior year. There are a few notable exceptions:

Medicare Advantage disenrollment period

The Medicare Advantage disenrollment allows Medicare Part C beneficiaries to switch back to Original Medicare and purchase a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. Medicare Advantage disenrollment runs from January 1 to February 14. Coverage changes go into effect on the first day of the month following your disenrollment. So, if you revert back to Original Medicare on January 2, your new coverage would start February 1.

Learn more about Medicare Part C.

Special enrollment periods (SEPs)

Special enrollment periods allow people to make changes to make Medicare Advantage and Medicare prescription drug plans following certain life events. These events are generally tied to loss or changes to your current health insurance. For instance, if your insurer made changes to its Medicare contract or you lost prescription drug coverage you had through a spouse’s workplace health insurance program, you could qualify for special enrollment and make changes to your Medicare elections.

Medicare supplement (Medigap) enrollment

Medicare supplement insurance or Medigap plans are available for purchase all year round. These plans help beneficiaries pay out-of-pocket expenses associated with Original Medicare, including copays and deductibles. If you’re dissatisfied with your coverage or struggling with Medicare costs, consider a Medigap plan.

Note: When you apply for a Medigap plan outside of Medigap open enrollment, which starts the month you turn 65 and enroll in Medicare Part B, the insurer can deny you or charge you a higher premium.

Learn more about Medicare supplement insurance (Medigap).

Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by an insurance agent. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.