During the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) many Medicare enrollees are wondering what this means for them and their coverage. There are a number of important decisions to make and considerations to take into account during this time when weighing possible coverage options, so it can get a bit confusing. Here is our guide to the most important decisions to make during the AEP and how to navigate them.

When is the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period (AEP)?

AEP occurs between October 15 and Dec 7 each year. It’s different from the General Medicare Enrollment Period that occurs in January, which applies to Original Medicare. AEP applies to Medicare Advantage plans and Medicare Part D—drug coverage—but not to Medicare Supplement plans. 

Can I join a Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D plan during the AEP window?

Yes, you can join a Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D plan during the AEP window. However, if you weren’t previously part of one of these plans and your Initial Enrollment Period has ended, you may have to pay a Medicare Part D late enrollment penalty to join a drug plan.

Your Initial Enrollment Period happens when you first become eligible for Medicare Parts A and B, generally 3 months before the month you turn 65 and 3 months after. If you miss that window, AEP is the next time you can join a Medicare Advantage plan outside of a qualifying event for special enrollment.

Can I switch Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D coverage during the AEP window?

Yes, during AEP you can switch between Medicare Advantage plans or Medicare Part D plans, or switch between these types of plans. AEP is the perfect time to look at what all of your options are before choosing what to enroll in for 2021. 

Any changes you make to your coverage during AEP will go into effect on Jan 1 of the following year. You can make multiple changes to your coverage during AEP, but the last change you make before Dec 7 is the one that will go into effect the following year.

Can I drop Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D coverage during the AEP window?

Yes, during AEP you can drop coverage that you no longer think you need. For example, if you are enrolled in a Medicare Part D plan and want to drop down to just Original Medicare, you are allowed to during this period. However, if you decide to re-enroll in Medicare Part D later you may still face a late enrollment penalty.

Can I join or switch to a Medicare Supplement plan during the AEP window?

AEP doesn’t apply to Medicare Supplement plans, however, you can switch to Medicare Supplement plans year-round. When switching to a Medicare Supplement plan there may be underwriting involved, meaning they can factor your age and health status into your cost. 

However, you are able to switch between Medicare Part D plans. Most people with a Medicare Supplement plan also have a Medicare Part D plan for drug coverage, so the AEP window can still be a good time to upgrade your coverage.

What are some reasons to switch plans during the AEP window?

People most commonly switch between Medicare Advantage plans and Medicare Part D drug plans during AEP. Some reasons can include that necessary prescription drugs are no longer covered on a certain drug plan, you no longer need the drug coverage you needed before, or there are new plan offerings in your area available the following year that are a better fit for you.

Your individual situation can vary, but a good time to get your coverage for the next calendar year sorted out is in the fall of the year before so you can transition seamlessly with no penalties. 

Are there any other times I can switch to a new Medicare Advantage plan?

Yes, if you are already enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, during the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment (MA-OEP) from Jan 1-Mar 31 you can switch to a new one. During MA-OEP you can switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan or drop your plan and go back to Original Medicare. If you decide to drop your Medicare Advantage plan, you may enroll in a Part D plan or Medicare Supplement plan as well.

There are also a few special enrollment periods (SEP) such as the SEP, such as qualifying for Medicaid or Extra Help, moving to a new location, natural disasters, losing creditable coverage, or the five-star special Medicare Advantage enrollment window from Dec 8-Nov 30.