Learning Center > Understanding Medicare Enrollment Periods

Understanding Medicare Enrollment Periods

Medicare enrollment periods

Everyone can enroll in Medicare in the seven-month period around their 65th birthday through the Medicare Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). It starts three months before your birth month, includes your birth month, and ends three months afterward. If you don’t enroll in Medicare (either Medicare Part A or Part B) during your IEP, you can enroll enroll in either during the General Enrollment Period that occurs annual from January 1 through March 31 of each year.

After you enroll in Medicare when can you change your Medicare coverage options?

There are three main enrollment periods that allow you to make changes to your coverage. Everyone with Medicare can make changes during the annual enrollment period (AEP). If you have certain qualifying events happen in your life, you may also have a special enrollment period (SEP) to allow changes. And if you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan, you will also have an opportunity to make changes during the MA open enrollment period (OEP) that happens at the beginning of the year. .

This article will cover these enrollment periods in more detail so you know exactly when you can make changes to your Medicare plan.

Special Enrollment Period SEP for those enrolled in Medicare Advantage or Prescription Drug Plans

If you have special circumstances in your life, , you may qualify for a Medicare SEP to change your Medicare Advantage or Part D plan coverage. The special enrollment period options and length will be different for each circumstance.

For example, you could qualify for an SEP if you:

  • Retire from a job after age 65
  • Move
  • Become eligible for Medicaid
  • Have your Medicare plan terminated by the insurer
  • Lose other medical or drug coverage

To learn more about Medicare SEPs, check out our guide on special enrollment periods.

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment (MA OEP) vs. Annual Enrollment (AEP)

Both Medicare annual enrollment period (AEP) and Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment period (MA OEP) happen each year. However, there are some important differences. This will help you understand Medicare AEP vs Medicare Advantage OEP.

The Medicare annual enrollment period is between October 15th and December 7th of each year. During this time everyone with Medicare can join, switch, or drop any Medicare Advantage or Prescription Drug plan (“Part D). Your coverage will begin on January 1st, as long as you make your choice by December 7th.

The Medicare Advantage open enrollment period applies only to those enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans. From January 1st to March 31st each year, you can switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan, or switch from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare and join a separate drug plan.

To summarize the Medicare annual enrollment period vs Medicare Advantage open enrollment period:

Dates: Oct 15 - Dec 7 for AEP, Jan 1 - March 31 for Medicare Advantage OEP Costs: None beyond your plan’s monthly premiums Eligibility to Enroll: AEP — any Medicare beneficiary; OEP — Medicare Advantage enrollees only Form of Medicare Available: AEP — any; MA OEP — Change Medicare Advantage plans or Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare

Medicare Enrollment Periods Chart

This chart can help you understand Medicare open enrollment vs annual enrollment, along with special enrollment periods.

Medicare Annual Enrollment (AEP) Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment (OEP) Medicare Advantage & Part D Special Enrollment (SEP)
Start Date October 15th January 1st When a qualifying even occurs
End Date December 7th March 31st Varies
Notes Any Medicare beneficiary can make any changes Medicare Advantage enrollees only, limited changes Details depend on the qualifying event

Learn More About Medicare Enrollment Periods

Now that you understand the different enrollment periods, you might decide you want to make a change. Making the right choice for your needs is easier when you talk to a licensed insurance agent. Contact us today for any questions about enrollment periods or comparing Medicare plans!

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What you should read next

 a donut with a bite as a visual metaphor for the Medicare Donut Hole

If you choose to have Original Medicare with Medicare Part D added, you’ll receive prescription drug coverage through Medicare Part D. However, there can sometimes be a gap in the coverage of your prescriptions. This gap is known as the “donut hole,” and it’s a period of time where you pay out-of-pocket for your medications. However, you don’t pay the full amount, and once your out-of-pocket costs hit a specific level Medicare will resume coverage. What is the Medicare donut hole? This page will help you understand the donut hole and how to navigate it. How Does the Donut Hole Work in Medicare? The Medicare donut hole is a period of time where you’ve reached the limit of your Medicare Part D coverage, but haven’t hit the “catastrophic coverage” level where Medicare resumes assisting you with your prescription drug coverage. With Medicare Part D, the first portion of the year you’ll be paying toward your deductible. The deductible varies but can be up to $445 in 2021. Once you reach your deductible, your drug plan will kick in and you’ll pay your copayment or coinsurance for your medication. If the amount you and your plan pay toward prescription drugs reaches a certain level, you’ll enter the donut hole. Keep in mind that not everyone gets to the prescription donut hole — the gap was designed to encourage Medicare recipients to seek out lower-cost drugs and generics. The Medicare donut hole in 2021 starts at $4,130. When Does the Medicare Donut Hole End? The coverage gap ends when you reach the catastrophic coverage limit for the year. In 2021, this amount is $6,550. The good news is that the donut hole essentially closed in 2020, so that even when you hit the coverage gap, you won’t pay more than 25% of the cost of prescription drugs. However, around 95% of the cost will count toward moving you out of the hole. Do Medicare Advantage Plans Cover the Donut Hole? Medicare drug coverage — Part D — works the same in a Medicare Advantage plan as it does with a "Stand-alone” Part D plan. However, some Medicare Advantage plans offer more generous benefits during the donut hole than a stand-alone Part D plan does. Understanding your prescription drug coverage is essential so that you know if you’re likely to approach a coverage gap based on the price of your medication. If so, make sure you know what the costs will be during the donut hole period. Medicare Part D Plans Without the Donut Hole There are no Medicare Part D plans — including Medicare Advantage plans — without a coverage gap. However, some prescription plans have additional coverage options during the donut hole. For instance, your Medicare Advantage plan might include coverage for some generic medications even in the gap. Or, they may offer some drugs at a lower cost than 25%. It all depends on your plan and provider. The best way to avoid the donut hole is to work with your doctor to keep the cost of your medication low. If that’s not possible, the fact that you will pay no more than 25% of the full cost even in the coverage gap will help ease your mind. How Do I Get Out of the Medicare Donut Hole? If you’re in the Medicare Part D donut hole, the only way to get out is to spend enough to reach the catastrophic coverage threshold. The good news is that while you’re paying no more than 25% of the cost of the medication, close to 95% of the cost of the drugs is going toward your spending total. One way to manage the coverage gap “donut hole” is to work with your doctor to find effective low-cost and generic medications that will help you maintain your physical health. Here are some tips that can help: Use a generic or find a similar drug that has a generic Talk to your doctor about drug costs and whether specific prescriptions are really needed Shop around — different pharmacies offer different drug prices Compare Medicare plans each year to make sure you have affordable drug coverage Learn More About Medicare Costs and Plans Medicare costs can be confusing, especially when there is the possibility of a coverage gap in the middle of the year. Fortunately, even during the Medicare donut hole, you don’t have to pay more than 25% of a prescription drug price, and you may even pay less. If you’re interested in comparing Medicare plans to make sure your drug coverage meets your needs, talking to a licensed insurance agent can help. Learn more about your options and compare Medicare plans today!
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Medicare Part D offers important prescription drug coverage and is part of both Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage. As a result, it’s important to understand the Medicare Part D phases that occur each year. There are four Medicare Part D stages. Depending on your drug costs, you may not reach all four in a given year. However, it’s still vital to know what to expect in case your prescription drug needs increase over time. Here’s what you need to know. What are the 4 Stages of Medicare Part D? What are the Medicare Part D stages of coverage? As we mentioned, there are four of them. They start with the deductible period, then initial coverage, followed by the donut hole, and then catastrophic coverage. We’ll go in-depth into each stage so that you can fully understand how they work for you. Deductible Period During the deductible period, you pay the full price of your prescription drugs until you meet your Medicare Part D deductible. The deductible may vary from one plan to another, but Medicare does set a maximum limit. Medicare Part D Deductible 2021 In 2021 the deductible limit for Medicare Part D is $445. Some plans have a $0 deductible, meaning that you skip the first of the Medicare Part D payment stages and move straight into initial coverage. Other plans have a deductible that only applies to certain tiers of medications, while other medications are covered right away. For instance, generic medications may be covered immediately while name-brand medications have a deductible. Make sure you review the Medicare Part D deductible when you compare plans each year so you can choose the plan that’s best for your needs. Initial Coverage Once your deductible is met, you move into initial coverage. This is where your Medicare Part D plan covers your medication, and you only pay a copayment or coinsurance each time. Each plan will have a different list of covered medications and different out-of-pocket costs, so be sure to carefully review the details of your plan. The initial coverage period lasts until you hit $4,130 in total drug costs, which includes both the amount you have paid during the year and the amount your plan paid. Depending on your medical needs, you may not hit the limit, but if you do, you enter the coverage gap known as the Medicare donut hole. Medicare Part D Donut Hole Once you hit the Medicare Part D initial coverage limit, you enter a gap in coverage known as the donut hole. In the past, you had to pay a significant amount of your drug costs during this gap. The coverage gap for all drugs essentially closed in 2020, meaning your share of costs in the “donut hole” is limited to 25% of the drug cost (both brand-name and generic). This percentage will replace the copayment or coinsurance you were paying during the initial coverage period. S For a generic drug that costs $100, you would pay $25 for that drug during the donut hole. For brand-name drugs, even though you only pay 25% of the cost, around 95% of the cost will count toward your out-of-pocket total to move you out of the coverage gap. Once you have paid $6,550 in out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs, you’ll exit the donut hole and enter catastrophic coverage. Medicare Part D Catastrophic Coverage The final stage of Medicare Part D is catastrophic coverage. What is catastrophic coverage in Medicare Part D? It’s a phase designed to help those who have especially high prescription drug costs. During catastrophic coverage, you’ll pay significantly lower copayments or coinsurance for your remaining prescriptions for the year. For Medicare Part D catastrophic coverage in 2021, you’ll pay 5% of the cost of drugs, and the plan pays for the remainder. Does Medicare Part D Have an Out-of-Pocket Maximum? There is no out-of-pocket maximum for Medicare Part D, but once you hit catastrophic coverage, your out-of-pocket costs drop significantly. Generally, you’ll pay a a minimum of $9.20 for brand-name medication and $3.70 for generic drugs, or 5% of retail costs, whichever is higher. Learn More About Medicare Part D Coverage Stages Medicare Part D is important coverage for many Medicare beneficiaries. That’s why it’s vital to understand the various Part D phases and whether you will enter them in a specific year. Comparing plans is easier with a licensed insurance agent by your side. Contact us to learn more or use our plan comparison tool to learn about plans in your area.
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Grandmother and grandson making dinner because the grandmother may have saved with Medicare Savings Program

Not all Medicare beneficiaries can afford to pay their premiums, copayments, and coinsurance. If you have a lower income, it’s possible that you’ll qualify for a Medicare Savings Program to help with your out-of-pocket expenses. Are you asking, “Do I qualify for a Medicare Savings Program?” If so, this article will help. This page is designed to help you understand the Medicare Savings Program income limits and other requirements. Read on to find out if you qualify. What Does the Medicare Savings Program Cover? There are four different Medicare Savings Programs that you may qualify for. Each one has different requirements and benefits. In general, there are income limits and resource limits to qualify for each program, and they may help pay your premiums, deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance. Qualified Medicare Beneficiary The first program is known as the “Qualified Medicare Beneficiary” program. If your income is 100% of the Federal Poverty Level or below and you are below the resources threshold, you can qualify for assistance with Part A premiums (if applicable), Part B premiums, deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance. Providers are not allowed to bill you for services or items covered by Medicare, and you pay very little for prescription drugs as well. Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary You may be eligible for the Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB) program if you make less than 120% of the Federal Poverty Level and are below the resources threshold for the program. This program covers your Part B premium but does not cover any other out-of-pocket expenses from Medicare. You will still be responsible for your deductible, copayments, and coinsurance. However, you will qualify for Extra Help with prescription drugs under Medicare Part D automatically, which will help you save money on needed medication. Qualified Individual Program The Qualified Individual (QI) program is state-based and helps pay Part B Medicare premiums for those with Medicare Part A and limited resources. This limited program is available on a first-come, first-serve basis and has limited spots each year. You also need to reapply each year. You can qualify for the QI program if you make 135% or less of the Federal Poverty Level income and are below the resources limit for the program. Qualified Disabled Working Individual If you qualified for Medicare due to a disability but recently returned to work, you may no longer be able to get Medicare Part A premium-free. You can qualify for this assistance if you make as much as 400% of the Federal Poverty Limit if your income is from working. The Qualified Disabled Working Individual (QDWI) program may help you if the following apply: You’re a disabled working person under 65 You lost Social Security benefits and premium-free Medicare Part A due to returning to work You’re not getting medical assistance from your state through Medicaid You meet the income and resource requirements set by the state QDWI will help pay your Medicare Part A premiums. Who Qualifies for the Medicare Savings Program? There are two qualifications for the Medicare Savings Programs. One is based on your income, and the other is your resources. The requirements may vary depending on the state you live in, and whether any of your income comes from working. Let’s take a deeper look. What is the Income Limit for the Medicare Savings Program? The Medicare Savings Program income limit varies by location; most states base it on a percentage of the Federal Poverty Limit, which shifts slightly each year. In 2021, here are the monthly income limits for each program. Limits for Hawaii and Alaska are slightly higher. Qualified Medicare Beneficiary: Individual $1,094 and Married Couple $1,472 Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary: Individual $1,308 and Married Couple $1,762 Qualified Individual: Individual $1,469 and Married Couple $1,980 Qualified Disabled Working Individual: Individual $4,379 and Married Couple $5,892 There are also resource limits for each program. Counted resources include stocks, bonds, and money in your checking or savings account. The resource limit for the QMB, SLMB, and QI programs is $7,970 for an individual and $11,960 for a married couple. For the QDWI program, the resource limit is $4,000 for an individual and $6,000 for a married couple. What Counts as Income for Medicare Savings Program? When looking at your income, how do you know what counts? The good news is that if you are working, around half of your working income is excluded. Worker’s compensation and disability benefits are also excluded. If your income, after these adjustments, is close to the limit, it’s worth applying for the program. If approved, you could save a considerable amount of money on out-of-pocket expenses. Contact your state’s Medicaid office if you have questions about your eligibility. Medicare Savings Program vs. Medicaid The Medicare Savings Program is administered by each state, often through the Medicaid office. However, it is not the same as Medicaid. Medicaid is specifically designed for low-income families and individuals and covers medical care with little to no out-of-pocket expenses. There is no monthly premium to be on Medicaid, you qualify based on your income and assets. The Medicare Savings Program is designed to help Medicare beneficiaries, who are disabled or over 65, pay for their out-of-pocket costs with Medicare. This may include your Part B premium, your Part A premium (if any), and other costs. It is possible to be eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid at the same time. These folks are known as “Dual Eligible,” and generally qualify for a Medicare Savings Program automatically, along with Extra Help for prescription drugs. Learn More About the Medicare Savings Program If you’re ready to learn more about Medicare and the Medicare Savings Program, it’s helpful to talk to a licensed insurance agent. Contact us to learn more and compare plans to find the one that’s right for you.
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