Initial Enrollment Period
This is when you first become eligible for Medicare. It is a 7 month window of opportunity for you to sign up without penalty. It includes three months before your birthday month, the month you turn 65, and three full months following your birthday month.
AEP or Annual Election Period
Applies to existing Medicare members. Take note that the dates have changed recently. The newest AEP dates are October 15th – December 7th, 2014, for plan effective dates of January 1st, 2015. During this time you may either join a Medicare Advantage Plan, switch to a new Medicare Advantage or Medigap* plan, or drop whatever type of Medicare Health plan that you have. Your new coverage begins January 1st.
(*In switching to a Medicare Supplement, you may be subject to underwriting for approval).
Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period
January 1st – February 14th of each year. You may only drop an existing Medicare Advantage Plan during this time. You may not enroll in a different Medicare Advantage Plan. You may return to Original Medicare, or Original Medicare plus a Medicare Supplement. You will also need to consider joining a stand alone part D Prescription Drug Plan to replace the coverage lost by the Medicare Advantage Plan. You are not required to have prescription coverage, but will incur a penalty if you go without coverage for 63 days or more.
Special Election Period
This election period allows you to change plans anytime during the year due to special circumstances only. A few examples are moving out of your plan’s service area, or losing employer group coverage. Also known as “Lock-In”, this period prohibits a change in plans that will effect your prescription drug coverage. That is why individuals with a Medicare Advantage plan are “locked in” during this time, as their prescription drug coverage is built in to the Medicare Advantage plan in most cases.