The 2021 Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) for Medicare, also known as the Open Enrollment Period, will run from October 15, 2021 through December 7, 2021. Keep these important dates in mind:
- October 15th: Medicare Open Enrollment starts. This is the first day you can change your coverage for 2022. During open enrollment, you can add or drop Medicare Advantage, switch from one Advantage plan to another, return to Original Medicare, or add or drop Part D prescription drug coverage. This is the one time during the year when everyone with Medicare can make changes to their coverage for the next year.
- December 7th: 2021 Medicare Open Enrollment ends.
- January 1st: Any changes you made to your Medicare coverage during annual enrollment take effect on January 1, 2022.
Note that you can’t use the Open Enrollment Period to enroll in Medicare for the first time. If you’re new to Medicare, you’ll need to use your Initial Enrollment Period to sign up. Once you’re in a Medicare plan (Original or Advantage), you can use the annual enrollment period to make changes to that coverage.
Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period
During the first three months of the year, anyone with a Medicare Advantage plan can make a one-time change to their coverage. This is not the same as open enrollment, during which you can make several changes up until the deadline. This special Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period only applies to people with Medicare Advantage and can only be used to make a one-time change.
Initial Enrollment Period (IEP)
If you’re new to Medicare and turning 65, you’ll use your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) to sign up for Medicare in the first place. This is a 7-month period that includes the three months before the month you turn 65, the month you turn 65 and the three months after that month. So, for example, if your birthday is February 11th, your IEP would run from November 1st through May 31st the year you turn 65.
Your IEP is the best time to sign up for Medicare. If you wait, you won’t be able to enroll in Part A and/or Part B until the General Enrollment Period (January 1st through March 31st). You may also owe a late penalty for enrolling after your IEP ends. And for Parts B and D, the late enrollment penalty lasts for as long as you have the coverage.
There are also special enrollment periods for unique cases, like if you’re still working when you turn 65 and have group insurance through an employer. For more information about special enrollment periods, contact Medicare directly or start here on the Medicare.gov website.
What if I miss the Medicare Open Enrollment Period?
If you miss the Open Enrollment Period, you may not be able to make any changes to your current Medicare coverage until the next enrollment window starts in October. But there could be some exceptions. For example, Medicare allows people to use what’s called the 5-Star Special Enrollment Period to change their plan one time per year.
This particular enrollment period is based on the star ratings that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) assigns to Medicare Advantage and Part D plans. CMS rates plans 1 to 5 stars, with 5 being the highest score. These ratings are based on various metrics and are updated each year.
If a 5-star Medicare Advantage or Part D plan is available in your area and you want to switch to it, you can use a special enrollment period once during the year (from December 8th of the current year through November 30th of the next year) to enroll in the 5-star plan.
This is just one example of a special enrollment period that Medicare grants to enrollees. But generally speaking, don’t count on special circumstances to make changes to your plan. Use the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period to make sure you’ve got the right coverage in place for the upcoming year.