5 Medicare Enrollment Periods & What You Can Do During Each One

Reviewed and Updated by Anastasia Iliou,

Did you know there are five different Medicare enrollment periods? You may qualify to enroll or make changes to your current coverage and have no idea! AEP is just a few months away, so we’d like to share with you what you can do during the various enrollment periods so you are properly prepared.

Initial Enrollment Period

Your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) is typically your first opportunity to enroll in Medicare. Your IEP is three months before your 65th birthday and three months after. This gives you a seven-month window to enroll in your preferred coverage. 

In most cases, if you do not enroll in Part A and Part B (Original Medicare) during your IEP, you will be charged a late enrollment penalty fee that will be added to your monthly Part B premium. If you do not have prescription drug coverage, you should also consider enrolling in a Part D plan to avoid other penalties down the road. You are not required to enroll in a Medicare Advantage or Medicare Supplement plan, but you should consider enrolling to optimize your coverage.


During your IEP, you can:

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General Enrollment Period

The General Enrollment Period (GEP) is for those who are enrolling in Medicare for the first time but missed their IEP. The GEP runs from January 1 to March 31 each year, and coverage will begin in July. 


During the GEP, you can:

*If you enroll for the first time during the GEP, you can follow up by enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan during a period from April 1 through June 30.

Annual Enrollment Period

The Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) runs from October 15 to December 7 each year. During this time, all Medicare beneficiaries can make changes to their plans. You may not need to do anything during AEP. However, major insurance carriers can change the benefits that they offer every year. It’s possible that a change in your plan benefits or your provider network will change how you feel about your plan. Ultimately, it’s always a good idea to speak with an agent. Any changes you make during AEP become effective on January 1 of the following year.


During the AEP, you can:

Special Enrollment Period

Most people can only make changes to their plans once a year (during AEP), but if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period you can make those changes during different times of the year or even all year long. Lifelong SEPs allow you to change plans once every quarter for the first three quarters of the year. Circumstantial SEPS allow you to change plans once following a particular event. 


During a SEP, you can:

Open Enrollment Period

Starting in 2019, there will be a new “Medicare Open Enrollment Period”  that will run from January 1 through March 30. OEP was created for anyone who signs up for a Medicare Advantage plan during AEP to enroll in a different plan, without having to wait until the following fall. You do not have to do anything during OEP unless you are unhappy with the coverage you enrolled in during AEP.

During the OEP, you can:

  • Change from one Medicare Advantage plan to another Medicare Advantage plan
  • Change from a Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage to Original Medicare with Part D prescription drug coverage
  • Change from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare only, with the option to add a prescription drug plan
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Contact Medicare Plan Finder

Are you looking to enroll in Medicare Advantage, Medicare Supplements, or Part D? Are you still confused on which Medicare enrollment periods you qualify for?

Our agents at Medicare Plan Finder can answer any of your questions and simplify the enrollment process. They are contracted with most of the major carriers in your state so the agent should not show bias when enrolling. To speak with a licensed agent and to learn about plans in your area, click here or call 844-431-1832.

This blog was originally published on 10/23/18 and was updated on 7/15/19.

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