Skip to main content.

Medicare Advantage enrollment periods: What you need to know

Posted February 10, 2022 by Sue Crawford, Vice President, Sales and Market Development.

Dates play a critical part in our lives. From birthdays to vacation times to doctor appointments, we mark important dates on our calendars. Recording Medicare Advantage enrollment periods on your calendar should be important, too.

Knowing when you can sign up for Medicare or enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan ensures you will get the most out of your coverage. If you miss a deadline, your coverage may be delayed or you could face penalties later on.

An enrollment period is the timeframe when you are eligible to sign up for Medicare or replace it with a Medicare Advantage plan. You can apply for a Medicare Advantage plan, or Medicare Part C, as soon as you become eligible for Medicare.

But whether you’re enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan for the first time or just making changes to your current plan, it can be confusing when you can do so throughout the year.

Medicare Advantage enrollment periods have different dates for various purposes. You’ll need to keep in mind first if you qualify for an enrollment period, when your benefits will start and what happens if you don’t meet the deadline. Learn more about the four main Medicare Advantage enrollment periods so you’re prepared if changes become necessary.

Initial Enrollment Period

When you initially enroll in Medicare, your open enrollment begins three months before your 65th birthday, through your birthday month and ends three months after your 65th birthday.

You can enroll in Original Medicare Part A and/or Part B. You can also enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan or in a stand-alone Medicare prescription drug plan, or Part D.

Your benefits will start on the first day of the month you turn 65 if you sign up before your birthday. If you sign up after your birthday, your enrollment begins the first day of the following month.

If you don’t sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan during your initial enrollment period, you can sign up during one of the other enrollment periods.

Annual Enrollment Period

The Annual Enrollment Period runs the same time every year, from October 15 through December 7.

This enrollment period is for members who want to make a change to their Medicare Advantage plan, such as:

  • Adding a Medicare Advantage plan for those who only have Original Medicare, or vice versa.
  • Switching from Medicare Advantage plan to another Medicare Advantage plan with the same carrier or switch carriers altogether if you’re not happy with your current coverage.
  • Switching from a Medicare Supplement plan to a Medicare Advantage plan.

Enrollment in your new plan will begin on January 1 the following year.

If you’re happy with your current Medicare Advantage plan, you don’t have to do anything. You are automatically reenrolled in your current plan from year to year, unless the plan is no longer provided or you switch plans.

If you miss this enrollment period, you will need to wait until the following year unless you qualify for another enrollment period.  

Special Enrollment Period

The Special Enrollment Period dates vary based on your personal circumstances. For example, if you’ve experienced a life change, it may qualify you to join, switch or drop a Medicare Advantage plan outside the Annual Enrollment Period.

In order to qualify, certain circumstances must occur that require you to change your coverage, such as:

  • Moving out of your plan’s service area
  • Losing employee or other coverage
  • Moving in or out of a nursing home or other long-term care facility
  • Becoming eligible for Medicaid

If you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period, you will have up to 60 days following the event to enroll in coverage. If you miss the deadline, you will need to wait for one of the other enrollment periods.

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

Each year, Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment runs from January 1 through March 31.

Anyone currently enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan can switch to another plan or drop it altogether to go back to Original Medicare. You can also enroll in a Medicare prescription drug plan.

If you switch your coverage during this time, your benefits will begin the first of the month following the month you made a change. If you miss the enrollment period, you will have to wait a few months until the Annual Enrollment Period.

But, understanding the different Medicare Advantage enrollment periods and their various purposes will better prepare you to make the changes you need if that time comes.



H3660_22_662NS_C 01262022