Explain Like I’m 65: "Medicare's Annual Enrollment Period"

Table of Contents:

  1. When Is Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period?
  2. What Changes Can I Make During the Annual Enrollment Period?
  3. Additional Enrollment Periods
  4. Preparing for the Annual Enrollment Period

Some people act like they know it all. Our new series Explain Like I’m 65 is for the rest of us. It will provide clear, digestible summaries to help seniors sort through the noise and get the factual information they need. From political buzzwords to household how-tos, we’re here to provide accessible guides and informative answers.

Most Americans first become eligible for Medicare when they reach age 65. Though the initial selection process is an important one, it’s not typically a final decision. Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) provides a yearly opportunity for beneficiaries to review their coverage, compare options, and potentially make a change. This week, we’re taking a closer look at the AEP, as well Medicare’s other open enrollment periods.

When Is Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period (AEP)?

Each year, Medicare’s AEP occurs from October 15th to December 7th.

What Changes Can I Make During the Annual Enrollment Period?

Between October 15th and December 7th, Medicare beneficiaries can review their plan, check for updates to cost and coverage, and make as many of the following changes as they like:

  • Change from Original Medicare (Parts A and B) to a Medicare Advantage plan
  • Change from a Medicare Advantage plan to Original Medicare
  • Change from one Medicare Advantage plan to another
  • Change from one Medicare Part D drug plan to another
  • Enroll in Medicare Part D (if the beneficiary neglected to do so during their first period of Medicare eligibility)

Any changes made during the AEP go into effect on New Year’s Day.

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Additional Enrollment Periods

You missed the AEP? If you’re a Medicare Advantage beneficiary, you’ll have at least one additional opportunity to update your coverage each year. From January 1st to March 31st, Medicare Advantage beneficiaries can make one of the following changes:

  • Change from a Medicare Advantage plan to Original Medicare and, if necessary, select a Part D drug plan
  • Choose a new Medicare Advantage plan

Any updates will go into effect on the 1st of the following month.

The AEP and the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period are the only two guaranteed, nationwide opportunities to review and update Medicare coverage. Beneficiaries may trigger a Special Enrollment Period, however, if they experience a significant event, including:

  • Death of a spouse
  • Moving to a new ZIP code
  • Losing employer or union-sponsored insurance
  • Being admitted to a long-term care facility

Preparing for the Annual Enrollment Period

Just because you’ve been satisfied with your Medicare coverage so far doesn’t mean you can afford to forget about the AEP. While certain aspects of Medicare remain static (or nearly static) from year to year, you can expect others to change considerably. Prescription drug plans, for example, are considered especially mutable and require close attention when the AEP comes around. Whatever your feelings toward your current plan, use the AEP as a time to reflect on questions like:

  • Are there any issues with my current coverage?
  • How much can I afford to pay in the event of a medical emergency?
  • Do I qualify for any additional federal aid?
  • What would happen if my health or financial situation changed significantly within the next year?

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services publishes its annual Medicare & You handbook to familiarize Original Medicare beneficiaries with any changes they can expect in the new year. Private insurance providers distribute this information to Medicare Advantage and Part D beneficiaries as well.

Are you ready to make a change during this year’s AEP?