If you want to enroll in Medicare Advantage, you have to wait for the right election period to come around. An election period is the narrow window of opportunity you have a chance to enroll in, get out of, or change your Medicare Advantage plan.

3 Medicare Advantage Enrollment Periods

There are 3 windows of opportunity to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan.

  1. Initial Coverage Election Period
  2. Annual Election Period
  3. Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

Your Initial Coverage Election Period

Your Initial Coverage Election Period happens when you first become eligible for Original Medicare. It starts three months before your 65th birthday, includes the month you turn 65, and ends three months after that. This election period can also happen after receiving Social Security benefits for 24 months minimum.

The window of opportunity is the same seven months, but instead of revolving around your birth month, the month of your official eligibility is in the center of that window.

The Annual Election Period

If your Initial Coverage Election Period has come and gone, another enrollment period to make changes is the Annual Election Period. For all qualifying seniors, the AEP starts October 15th and lasts through December 7th. Your benefits will kick in on January 1st of the following year.

The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

If you change your mind about Medicare Advantage, you’ll have to wait for The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period which occurs each year between January 1 and March 31.

During this window, you can switch back over to Original Medicare and also enroll in a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. You can also switch to Medicare Advantage from Original Medicare if you prefer.

Special Election Periods

Unless you qualify for a Special Election Period, you cannot enroll in Medicare Advantage outside of one of the three above enrollment windows. There are certain qualifying life events that you must experience in order to get approved for this SEP. Some of those include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • Losing Medicaid eligibility
  • Becoming eligible for Medicaid
  • Moving into an institution
  • Qualifying for the Extra Help prescription drug program
  • Moving to a new zip code that is not serviced by your Medicare Advantage Plan

How to Change Your Medicare Advantage Plan

Beneficiaries can change or drop their MA plan during enrollment periods only. The standard enrollment periods that apply to all Medicare Advantage plan enrollees are the Annual Enrollment Period and the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period.

The MAOEP starts on January 1st and ends on March 31st annually. Beneficiaries can only change or drop their plan during these two enrollment periods unless they qualify for a SEP.

by Lindsay Malzone, Lindsay Malzone is the Medicare expert for Medigap.com. She's been contributing to many well-known publications as an industry expert since 2017. Her passion is educating Medicare beneficiaries on all their supplemental Medicare options so they can make an informed decision on their healthcare coverage.