Medicare requires you to make changes, disenroll, or enroll in your Medicare Advantage plan during pre-set enrollment periods. If you miss these enrollment periods, you may have to wait until the next enrollment period unless you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period. So what is Medicare Advantage, and when can you enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan? Let’s go over the opportunities you may have to enroll or switch Medicare Advantage plans.
How to sign up for Medicare Advantage
Once you settle on a Medicare Advantage plan and decide to enroll, you can do so over the phone or online. When you apply for this coverage, you have to have your Medicare number, and the dates your Part A and Part B coverage started. You’ll find these dates listed right on your Medicare card. How you can enroll, make changes, or leave your Medicare Advantage plan will depend on a few different factors.
Initial Enrollment Period
Each person will get an Initial Enrollment Period when they become eligible for Original Medicare. Unless you get Medicare before you’re 65 due to certain disabilities, you can enroll for the first time during this period. This period starts three months before you turn 65, and it includes your birthday month and three months after to give you a total of a seven-month window.
For example, say that you turn 65 on June 10 this year. The Initial Enrollment Period will start for you three months before your June birthday on March 1. It will go until September 30.
If you are eligible for Original Medicare before you turn 65 due to a qualifying disability, you can enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan once you’ve received Railroad Retirement Board Benefits or Social Security benefits for 24 months. The coverage will start on the 25th month after you start getting disability benefits.
If you have ALS, you can get Medicare coverage the first month you get your disability. For those with End-Stage Renal Disease, you can also enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, and you may be eligible for a Medicare Special Needs Plan.
Enrolling in a Medicare Advantage Plan
Before you’re able to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, you have to enroll in Original Medicare. If you’re going to sign up for Original Medicare, you can do so by:
- Go to the Social Security Administration Website and apply online
- Visit your local Social Security office and apply in person
- Call the Railroad Retirement Board if you worked for a railroad at 1-877-772-5772
- Fill out an Application for Enrollment in Part B
Once you enroll in Part A and Part B, you can consider enrolling in an MA plan in your area. MA plans must include the same coverage as Original Medicare Parts A and B, but many plans include additional benefits, such as vision care, routine dental care, hearing exams, and gym memberships. Online comparison tools can help you narrow down your options. A licensed sales agent may be able to help you compare plans and enroll when you find one that’s right for you.
Changing Medicare Advantage plans
You can make changes to your MA plan during certain periods during the year. The Open Enrollment Period, Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period, and 5-star Special Enrollment Period may give you an opportunity to switch to another plan available in your area.
Annual Open Enrollment Period
You may hear this period referred to as the Fall Medicare Open Enrollment Period when it comes to Medicare Advantage plans and prescription drug plans. It happens each year starting October 15 and goes through December 7. During this period, you can make changes to your Medicare coverage. Anyone who has Original Medicare can switch to a Medicare Advantage plan. You can switch Medicare Advantage plans or Part D plans. You can also drop your MA plan and go back to Original Medicare (and enroll in a Prescription Drug Plan at this time).
Special Enrollment Period
Depending on your circumstances, you could qualify for the Special Enrollment Period from Medicare. There are no hard beginning or ending dates with this period, and you can have one granted at any point throughout the year if you’re a beneficiary who qualifies by experiencing certain life events, such as:
- Losing your current health insurance coverage
- Changing where you live
- Having a plan that changes the Medicare contract
- Having the opportunity to opt-in for another coverage
You can call to speak with a licensed insurance agent who can help you determine if you can use this period to switch to a Medicare Advantage plan.
Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period
From January 1 through March 31, you can make one change from your current MA plan to another one.
5-Star Special Enrollment Period
From December 8 through November 30, you have one opportunity to change to a 5-star plan that’s available in your area. You can only use this opportunity one time.