Medicare Election Periods - Western Asset Protection
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Medicare Election Periods

Two separate Medicare enrollment periods end on March 31. Both the General Enrollment Period and the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period last from January 1 to March 31. People who miss these periods might not get to make another change for several months.

Medicare sign-up periods can be confusing. For one thing, there are a lot of them. For another, the options and eligibility requirements are different for each one. But missing out of one could mean getting stuck with the wrong plan – or possibly having no coverage at all. Here’s a rundown of the various election periods that Medicare agents should know.

Periods for New Enrollment

Some enrollment periods cater to individuals who are signing up for Medicare for the first time.

  • Initial Enrollment Period: People age into Medicare when they turn 65. The Initial Enrollment Period lasts for seven months and includes the beneficiary’s birthday month, the three months before and the three months after. However, signing up during the last three months of the Initial Enrollment Period can result in a gap in coverage.
  • General Enrollment Period: People who miss their Initial Enrollment Period get a second chance, but it comes with a catch. The General Enrollment Period runs from January 1 to March 31 every year. During this time, people who didn’t sign up for Medicare when they were first eligible and who aren’t eligible for a Special Enrollment Period can enroll in a plan. However, late penalties may apply, and they can be expensive.
  • Special Enrollment Periods: People who are covered by a group health plan based on current employment may be eligible to delay enrollment in Medicare without paying a penalty. The Special Enrollment Period lasts for eight months and starts the month after employment ends or the month after the group health coverage based on current employment ends, whichever happens first.

Enrollment Periods for Current Enrollees

Other enrollment periods cater to current Medicare beneficiaries who may want to switch their plans. Once again, there are multiple election periods.

  • Fall Annual Election Period: This is the big one. Every year, between October 15 and December 7, Medicare enrollees can make a one-time plan switch for the following coverage year.
  • Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period: This period applies only to people who are currently enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan. Between January 1 and March 31, they can make a one-time switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan or to Original Medicare. (People who enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan during their Initial Enrollment Period also get a three-month period when they can decide to switch to another Medicare Advantage plan or switch to Original Medicare.) Agents should be aware of marketing restrictions surrounding the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period. Read this article on OEP for highlights, and go over the Medicare Communications and Marketing Guidelines for details.
  • Special Enrollment Periods: People who are currently enrolled in Medicare may qualify for Special Enrollment Periods to change their plan. Special Enrollment Periods are based on life events. For example, beneficiaries who move or qualify for a Special Needs Plan can qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.

In March, our Talk-O Tuesday featured an in-depth discussion on election periods. Learn more and watch the video in The Medicare Library. (You’ll need to register for access if you haven’t already done so.)