Medicare Special Enrollment Periods Explained

This article was updated on January 30, 2019. 

Parts A and B Special Enrollment Periods

Did you know that there are special circumstances, or Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs), when you can enroll in Part A and Part B outside the normal enrollment periods without incurring a penalties?

For example, you may have an SEP if:

  • Your work coverage has ended
  • You were volunteering in a foreign country when you turned 65
  • You were living overseas when you turned 65
  • You have disability, ESRD, or ALS

Learn more about Part A and B sign up periods here.

Medicare Advantage and Part D Special Enrollment Periods

There are also special circumstances in which you can make changes to your Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage.

You may be eligible for an SEP if:

  • You moved
  • You moved back to the U.S. after living abroad
  • You live in a skilled nursing facility
  • You’re no longer eligible for Medicaid
  • You no longer have employer coverage
  • You qualify for Extra Help paying for Medicare prescription drug coverage
  • You qualify for a Special Needs Plan (SNP)
  • You experience misleading marketing
  • You want to enroll in a 5-star Medicare Advantage or Part D plan

This chart from the Medicare Rights Center covers all the Special Enrollment Periods for Part C (Medicare Advantage) and Part D that are available and what to do. Medicare’s website also covers many scenarios in which you might be eligible for a Special Enrollment Period for Medicare Advantage and Part D plans.

General Enrollment Periods

If you do not qualify for a Special Enrollment Period, the general Medicare and Medicare Advantage Enrollment Periods are as follows:

  • Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) – The seven-month period when you are first eligible for Medicare. See the chart below to figure out your personal IEP. 
  • General Enrollment Period (GEP) – If you miss your initial enrollment, you can sign up for Medicare between January 1 and March 31 each year.
  • Open Enrollment Period (OEP) – October 15 – December 7 each year. During this time you can switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan (with or without a Part D plan included), enroll in a Part D plan, disenroll from Part D, or switch Part D plans.
  • Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period – January 1 – March 31 each year. During this period, you can switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan, leave your Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare, and enroll in a stand-alone Part D plan if needed.

chart, find your Medicare initial enrollment period


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