Each fall, Medicare Open Enrollment allows you to update your plans. This is not the only time when you can change your coverage, but the fall enrollment period gives you the most flexibility with which changes you can make.
Change Medicare plans
If you're signing up for Medicare for the first time, there are separate time periods dedicated for initial enrollment and general enrollment.
Medicare open enrollment
Best overall Medicare Advantage
Typical monthly cost: $0-$238
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Best overall Medicare Part D
Average monthly cost: $38
When is the 2022 Medicare open enrollment period?
Medicare open enrollment happens every fall from October 15 through December 7.
This enrollment period is only for existing Medicare enrollees who want to make changes to their coverage. Any changes you make during the 2021 Medicare enrollment period will affect your 2022 Medicare plan, beginning Jan. 1, 2022. Note that the 2022 open enrollment period for health insurance was extended, but the dates for Medicare open enrollment were not extended.
What can you do during Medicare open enrollment?
During Medicare open enrollment, sometimes called the Medicare annual enrollment, you can change Original Medicare, Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D plans, including changing your coverage, switching between plan types and adding prescription drug benefits.
4 questions to ask during Medicare open enrollment
Participating in open enrollment is an important step to making sure that you have the health benefits you need for the upcoming year. When comparing plans, ask yourself:
- What new Medicare plans are available for 2022?
Plan availability and the cost of Medicare change each year. We recommend that all enrollees review their options annually to compare rates and make sure they're getting the best deal. If you want to keep the same coverage, your Annual Notice of Changes (ANOC) will tell you how your current plan is changing.
- Does your coverage match your medical needs?
If your medical situation has changed, updating your policy can help you save money. When comparing plans, look at the total cost of health care and insurance. For example, if you expect to need significant medical care in the coming year, a more expensive Medicare Advantage plan with better coverage can help reduce your total health care spending.
- Do you want to change Medicare plan styles?
If you're unhappy with Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage, you can switch between the two during open enrollment. Medicare Advantage plans are becoming more popular because policies frequently include benefits for prescription drug coverage, dental, vision, hearing aids and more.
- Do you have gaps in your prescription drug coverage?
During open enrollment, you can switch to a policy that has better coverage for the medications you need. This can include changing companies to access a different drug formulary or changing plans to improve your benefits.
Medicare Advantage open enrollment
Cheapest Medicare Advantage
Typical monthly cost: $0-$71
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Top-ranking Medicare Advantage
Typical monthly cost: $0-$178
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When is the Medicare Advantage open enrollment period?
Medicare Advantage open enrollment happens every year from January 1 to March 3.
During this enrollment window, anyone already enrolled in Medicare Advantage can change their coverage, but you won't have as many options as the fall Medicare open enrollment period. The changes you make to your Medicare plan will start on the first day of the month after the insurer gets your request. For example, if your insurance company receives your change request in mid-February, your new plan will begin on March 1.
What Medicare Advantage changes can you make?
During Medicare Advantage open enrollment, you can switch Medicare Advantage plans, or you can change to an Original Medicare policy and add on a Part D prescription drug plan.
3 questions to ask during Medicare Advantage open enrollment
Fewer people use this open enrollment period at the beginning of the year, but it's still a risk-free chance for Medicare beneficiaries to change their Medicare Advantage plan. Those considering updating their coverage can ask themselves:
- Did you miss fall open enrollment?
If you missed the December 7 deadline to change your plan, the Medicare Advantage enrollment period in early 2022 is a chance to change your coverage for the remainder of the year.
- Are you getting the best deal for 2022?
Remember that Medicare Advantage plans selections change annually. We recommend reviewing your coverage once per year to make sure you're not overpaying.
- Do you need to adjust your coverage to match your budget and medical needs?
If your health or financial circumstances have changed, changing your Medicare plan can help you get the coverage that works for your situation. You can lower your insurance bills with a $0 Medicare Advantage plan. Or, if you have ongoing health problems, improving your insurance coverage can help reduce your health care spending.
Medicare Supplement guaranteed issue
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Typical monthly cost: $60 to $300
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Typical monthly cost: $45-$147
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Does Medicare Supplement have open enrollment?
You can change your Medicare Supplement (Medigap) policy anytime, but the best time to change your plan is during a guaranteed issue period.
Medicare Supplement plans don't have the same dedicated enrollment periods for changing coverage. Even though you’re allowed to change to a new plan at any time, you’ll get the best rates and can't be denied coverage if you change plans during a guaranteed issue period. If you aren't protected by a guaranteed issue period, we recommend you carefully consider the potential outcomes of changing coverage.
Making changes without a guaranteed issue period
For most people, changing your Medigap plan will mean your application will go through the medical underwriting process. This includes reviewing your medical history and assessing risk factors. As a result, you could have to pay more for a policy or could be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition.
For example, without guaranteed issue rights, an application for Humana Medigap can be denied on the spot for conditions such as heart disease, dementia or uncontrolled diabetes.
Making changes with a guaranteed issue period
If you change your Medigap plan during a guaranteed issue period, the insurance company won’t consider your age or medical condition. Making changes during a guaranteed issue period gives you better protection from high prices, and it gives you more freedom to select the coverage you want.
What changes to Medigap can you make?
At any time, you can switch your Medigap plan or add a supplemental plan to your Original Medicare.
Keep in mind that Medicare Supplement plans are guaranteed renewable so you can't lose the coverage you already have. However changing or adding plans is affected by whether or not you qualify for a guaranteed issue period.
When do you qualify for a guaranteed issue period?
Some guaranteed issue periods are specified at the federal level. This includes situations like moving or a plan no longer being available. Most notably, if you switch from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare, you don’t automatically become eligible for protected enrollment in Medigap through a guaranteed issue.
Federally protected guaranteed issue periods:
- You lose coverage through no fault of your own such as if your Medicare Advantage or Medigap plan is no longer available or a supplemental plan through an employer or union is ending.
- You’re moving and your Medicare Advantage plan or Medicare SELECT policy is not available in your new area.
- You are in the Trial Right period that lets you switch to Original Medicare/Medigap from Medicare Advantage during your first year of enrollment.
- You have been misled by your Medicare Advantage or Medigap plan, or the plan has not followed the rules.
Some states offer expanded guaranteed issue periods to give you more options for changing your Medigap coverage. There may be a broader set of qualifying circumstances, and some states have added open enrollment for Medigap.
Guaranteed issue period for Medigap
|Alabama||Federal minimum requirements|
|Alaska||Expansion of qualifying events (retiree benefit changes and more)|
|Arizona||Federal minimum requirements|
|Arkansas||Expansion of qualifying events (retiree benefit changes)|
|California||Expansion of qualifying events (loss of Medicaid eligibility, retiree benefit changes and more)|
Medicare special enrollment
What is the Medicare special enrollment period?
If you meet the criteria for a Medicare special enrollment period (SEP), you'll be able to change your Medicare Advantage, Original Medicare or Medicare Part D plans. Qualifying situations include moving, having other coverage options, becoming eligible for Medicaid and more.
Medicare.gov has very specific rules about special enrollment periods and what Medicare changes you can make during what qualifying event. Below are the guidelines for some of the most common special enrollment circumstances.
Special enrollment qualification
What Medicare changes you can make
|Moved to a new address with different plan options||Return to Original Medicare or change coverage with Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D|
|Changed eligibility for employer, union or COBRA coverage||Join or drop Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D|
|You’re eligible to be dual enrolled in Medicare and Medicaid||Enroll, cancel or change Medicare Advantage plan or Medicare Part D|
|You have or recover from a severe or disabling condition||Enroll or cancel a Medicare Chronic Care Special Needs Plan (SNP)|
|A 5-star Medicare plan becomes available in your area||You can join the 5-star Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D plan|
|You qualify for Medicaid, State Pharmaceutical Assistance (SPAP) or Medicare Extra Help||You can enroll, cancel or change your Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D enrollment several times during the year|
Medicare initial enrollment period
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When is the Medicare initial enrollment period?
You can sign up for Medicare during this seven-month period around your 65th birthday.
Your initial enrollment period (IEP) begins three months prior to the month of your 65th birthday. It includes the month of your birthday, and your enrollment period ends three months after your birthday month.
If you sign up before your birthday, your Medicare coverage will start on the first of the month when you turn 65. If you sign up during your birthday month or the three months afterward, your coverage will start the first of the month after you enroll.
It’s important to sign up for Medicare when you first become eligible because you’ll avoid any late-enrollment penalties. The penalties are not a one-time charge. Instead, it’s a recurring fee, and the longer you go without Medicare, the higher your penalty. For example, if you sign up for Medicare Part B one year late, you could pay an extra $15 per month.
Medicare Eligibility Calculator
Calculate your initial seven month Medicare enrollment period by entering your date of birth.
Your initial enrollment period based on your age is
Note that your enrollment period may differ if you currently have a disability or have certain medical conditions.
What can you do during initial enrollment?
During your Medicare initial enrollment period, you can sign up for Medicare Parts A and B, Medicare Part C and Medicare Part D. When you turn 65, you'll also be able to enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan, but these enrollment dates are slightly different.
Top three considerations when signing up for Medicare
- Decide between Medicare Advantage and Original Medicare/Medigap
One of the most important steps is to decide which category of Medicare coverage you prefer. Medicare Part C, called Medicare Advantage, is more like traditional insurance with a single unified policy sold by an insurance company. Alternatively, you can get Original Medicare (Parts A and B) directly through the government, and you have the option to supplement these with a Medigap plan to reduce your out-of-pocket costs.
There are many factors to consider when deciding between these categories. For example, a Medicare Advantage plan will have a network of health care providers, but Original Medicare can be used at any facility that accepts Medicare.
- Make sure you have prescription drug coverage
Most Medicare Advantage plans include coverage for prescription drugs. If you choose Original Medicare or your Medicare Advantage plan doesn’t have prescription drug coverage, it's important to add on a stand-alone prescription drug plan, called Medicare Part D, to protect you from the high cost of medications.
- Request personalized quotes to find the best deal for the level of coverage you want
Medicare Advantage plans can vary from county to county, and you'll find the best deal by comparing the available plans in your location by their monthly premium, level of coverage and other preferences.
Medicare general enrollment
What is the Medicare general enrollment period?
From January 1 to March 31 each year, those who are eligible for Medicare can sign up for the first time, but you may have a late penalty if you're signing up after your initial enrollment period.
The Medicare general enrollment period is for new enrollees who do not have any type of Medicare. If you want to change parts of your existing Medicare coverage, you’ll probably need Medicare open enrollment in the fall. During general enrollment, you'll have the same options as during initial enrollment — you can sign up for Medicare Part A, B, C or D. The coverage you select will begin on July 1.
However, enrolling in Medicare after your initial enrollment period means you could pay a penalty. This isn't a one-time fee. Instead, it's an increase in your monthly costs based on how long you didn't have coverage.
Medicare special enrollment
When is the Medicare special enrollment period?
You can qualify for Medicare special enrollment if you didn’t enroll in Medicare when you became eligible at age 65 because you had health insurance through your job or your spouse's job.
If you meet the qualifying circumstances, signing up for Medicare through a special enrollment period can help you avoid a Medicare Part B late penalty.
There are limits and specifics when navigating between Medicare and employer health coverage, and we recommend you talk to someone at Medicare or your State Health Insurance Assistance Program to discuss the timing and documentation needed for you to qualify for a special enrollment period.
Note that special enrollment will only help you avoid the Medicare Part B penalty. There’s no way to avoid the Medicare Part A penalty.
Medicare Supplement open enrollment
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When is the Medicare Supplement open enrollment period?
Medicare Supplement (Medigap) open enrollment begins when you have Medicare Part B and are at least age 65. It continues for six months.
This open enrollment period for Medicare Supplement (also called Medigap) is a little later than your initial enrollment period because it starts when you turn 65, not three months before your birthday.
This is the best time to buy a Medigap plan because you’ll have preferred pricing, and you can’t be denied coverage because of a preexisting condition. Plus, any plan you get is guaranteed renewable, helping you reduce the cost of medical bills for as long as you choose to keep the policy.
Two key points when choosing the best Medicare Supplement for you:
- Coverage is standardized by plan letter, and all companies offering the same plan letter will provide the same level of hospital and medical benefits. This means that the main differences between providers will be cost and any auxiliary benefits such as dental or vision.
- Costs vary widely based on each plan's coverage. For the cheapest option, choose Medigap Plan K, which costs between $62 and $135. For the most comprehensive coverage, enroll in Medigap Plan G, which costs about $473 per month.
What happens if you miss your Medigap open enrollment when you turn 65?
You can sign up for Medicare supplemental insurance at any time, and there are no dedicated late enrollment periods. However, if you miss your initial Medigap open enrollment, most people won't get preferred pricing, and you can be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition.
However, if your circumstances qualifies you for a guaranteed issue period you'll have the freedom to change your plan without going through the underwriting process.
About half of the states have expanded their criteria for guaranteed issue to provide more options for Medigap enrollment. Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Washington have expanded their criteria so broadly that they're offering Medigap open enrollment on an annual or continuous basis. This gives you greater freedom to sign up for Medigap insurance or change your plan.
Frequently asked questions
When does Medicare open enrollment end?
The fall Medicare open enrollment period ends on December 7. However, depending on the type of Medicare you have or want to enroll in, you could be eligible for different enrollment periods such as the Medicare Advantage open enrollment from January 1 through March 3.
How long is open enrollment for Medicare?
The fall Medicare open enrollment period lasts for about two months, beginning on October 15 and ending on December 7.
When is Medicare Part D open enrollment?
Open enrollment for Medicare Part D coverage is October 15 through December 7, the same dates as open enrollment for other parts of Medicare. Depending on your situation, you may also be able to update or change your prescription drug plan during several other Medicare enrollment periods throughout the year.
Is there an open enrollment period for Medicare Supplement plans?
Medicare Supplement, also called Medigap, has an initial enrollment period when you turn 65, and there is either continuous or annual Medigap open enrollment in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Washington. You can apply for a Medigap plan at any time, but you'll get the best rates and can't be denied coverage if you apply during an open enrollment period or a guaranteed issue period.
Can I change my Medicare Advantage plan after open enrollment?
After the fall open enrollment period, there is an additional Medicare Advantage open enrollment period that starts on January 1 and lasts through March 3. During this time, those already enrolled in Medicare Advantage can switch to a different plan or even change their coverage to Original Medicare.
Details, costs and comparisons are based on information from Medicare.gov, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the Kaiser Family Foundation and state insurance agencies including:
- Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development
- Arizona Department of Insurance and Financial Institutions
- Connecticut Insurance Department
- Maine Bureau of Insurance
- Massachusetts Division of Insurance
- New York State Department of Financial Services
- Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner
- Wyoming Department of Insurance
Medicare Advantage cost estimates are based on 2022 plans. Average costs were calculated using quotes from Los Angeles, Denver, Atlanta, Seattle, Albany, Pittsburgh, Dover, Buffalo and Morgantown.
Costs for Medicare Part D and Medicare Supplement are based on our nationwide analysis of all prescription drug plans available throughout the country. And Medicare Advantage recommendations are based on our comparison of Medicare Advantage plans.