- Written by Terry Turner
Senior Financial Writer and Financial Wellness Facilitator
Terry Turner has more than 35 years of journalism experience, including covering benefits, spending and congressional action on federal programs such as Social Security and Medicare. He is a Certified Financial Wellness Facilitator through the National Wellness Institute and the Foundation for Financial Wellness and a member of the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education (AFCPE®).Read More
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- Reviewed ByAflak Chowdhury
Aflak Chowdhury is a Medicare expert and independent insurance broker specializing in group health insurance. He has worked for major providers including Humana and Principal Financial Group and today works mainly in the small group market.Read More
- Published: July 24, 2020
- Updated: October 23, 2023
- 15 min read time
- This page features 5 Cited Research ArticlesKey Takeaways
- The Medicare open enrollment period typically refers to the annual enrollment period from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.
- During this time, you can join, switch or drop Medicare plans.
- There are also open enrollment periods for Medicare Advantage plans and Medigap policies. These differ in timing from the annual open enrollment.
- Medicare Advantage open enrollment is from Jan. 1 to March 31 each year and allows you to switch Medicare Advantage plans if you are already enrolled in one.
- During Medigap open enrollment — the six-month period after you enroll in Medicare Part B and are 65 or older — Medigap companies cannot charge you more for a policy due to a health condition.
When Is Annual Open Enrollment for Medicare?
Medicare’s annual open enrollment period is a seven-week period each year when you can make changes to your current coverage. It takes place from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.
Each year, Medicare gives you the chance to examine your current plan during open enrollment and, if necessary, switch to a new one that better suits your needs.
Changes made in open enrollment go into effect Jan. 1.Important Medicare Enrollment Dates
Enrollment Period When it Runs What You Can Do Initial Enrollment Period
(if you are new to Medicare)
A seven-month period when you first become eligible for Medicare
Starts three months before your 65th birth month, includes your birth month, and runs for the three months after your birth month
Enroll in Original Medicare, a Medicare Advantage plan or a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan
- You must enroll in both Medicare Part A and Part B if you want to switch immediately to a Medicare Advantage plan at this time
- You must sign up for either Medicare Part A or Part B if you want to enroll in a Medicare Part D drug plan at this time
New to Part B Initial Enrollment Period
(only if you get Part B coverage after Part A starts)
Three months before you plan to receive Medicare Part B Join any Medicare Advantage plan with or without drug coverage Annual Open Enrollment Period
(only if you already have a Medicare Advantage plan)
- Jan. 1 - March 31 each year
- The first three months after you get Medicare and enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan
- Switch to another Medicare Advantage plan, with or without drug coverage
- Drop your Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare
- Join a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan
Medigap Open Enrollment Period Automatically starts the month you enroll in Medicare Part B and are 65 or older You can buy any Medigap policy a company sells at that same price offered to healthy people regardless of your health problems Special Enrollment Period The time varies and is based on changes in your life when you move, if you lose or have to change current coverage, or other factors affecting your Medicare coverage You can typically join or switch plans, but it varies based on the circumstances
The annual Medicare open enrollment period is different from the initial enrollment period, which is the seven-month window when you first become eligible for Medicare around your 65th birthday.
It also differs from the general enrollment period, which takes place from Jan. 1 to March 31. General enrollment allows you to sign up for Medicare Part A and/or Part B coverage if you did not do so during your initial enrollment period.
There is also the Medicare Advantage open enrollment period from Jan. 1 through March 31 when you can switch Medicare Advantage plans as long as you’re already enrolled in Medicare Advantage.Beginning in 2021, people with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) can enroll in Medicare Advantage Plans.
Enrollments and Changes You Can Make During the Annual Open Enrollment Period
Open enrollment is an annual opportunity for Medicare beneficiaries to reevaluate their current plan benefits rather than enrolling for the first time.
You should weigh changes in coverage and out-of-pocket costs — including Medicare deductibles, coinsurance, copayments and premiums.Enroll or Switch During the Annual Medicare Open Enrollment Period
- Original Medicare
- You can switch from Original Medicare — Medicare Part A and Part B — to a Medicare Advantage plan. But you can’t enroll in Medicare Advantage until you have enrolled in both Medicare Part A hospital insurance and Medicare Part B medical insurance. You also must live within the Medicare Advantage plan’s service area.
- Medicare Advantage
- If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, you can switch to another Medicare Advantage plan. You can also drop Medicare Advantage and go back to Original Medicare during the open enrollment period.
- If you switch from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare, you may be able to add Medigap — Medicare Supplement Insurance — coverage. It’s important to compare Medicare Advantage vs. Medigap plans in your total coverage package since you can’t have both plans at the same time.
- Prescription Drug Plans
- If you switch from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare at this time, you can add a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan to your Original Medicare coverage. You can also enroll in a Medicare Part D plan during the open enrollment period if you didn’t enroll in drug coverage when you were first eligible. If you haven’t maintained creditable drug coverage, you may have to pay a Medicare Part D late-enrollment penalty.
How to Switch Plans
It is relatively simple to switch plans during the annual fall Medicare open enrollment.How to Switch Plans
- To switch to a new Medicare Advantage plan
- Join the plan you choose — you can also do this during the Medicare Advantage open enrollment period from Jan. 1 to March 31. Once you join the new plan, you’ll automatically be removed from your old plan as soon as the new coverage begins.
- To switch to Original Medicare
- Contact your current plan’s administrator or call Medicare toll free at 1-800-633-4227. A service representative will walk you through the switch.
- To add Medicare Part D (after switching to Original Medicare)
- Original Medicare does not provide prescription drug coverage. You can contact a private insurer who provides Medicare Part D prescription drug plans to sign up. If you do not have creditable coverage, you should enroll immediately to avoid a Part D late-enrollment penalty.
- To switch from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage
- Enroll in the Medicare Advantage plan of your choice. Once enrolled, the plan administrator will work with Medicare to transfer over your coverage. You’ll need to notify your other plan administrator to drop your Medigap coverage and your Medicare Part D coverage if your new Medicare Advantage plan provides prescription drug coverage.
What Can You Not Change During Open Enrollment?
You typically cannot change Medigap plans during the fall open enrollment period.There are typically only three situations in which you can change your Medigap policy:
- Within your six-month Medigap open enrollment period
- If you are eligible under specific circumstances — such as the policy provider becomes insolvent
- If you have guaranteed issue rights
But if you are switching from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare, you may be able to buy a Medigap policy. However, the company may deny you a plan if you fail its medical underwriting requirements. Or the Medigap company may charge you more for a plan than if you’d signed up during your Medigap open enrollment period.
Considerations by State
If you’re switching to or between Medicare Advantage plans, there are some things you need to consider based on the state you live in.
Not all Medicare Advantage plans are available in all states — or even in all counties within a state.
You should make sure the one you want to switch to is available where you live.Have you selected your 2024 Medicare plan?Maximize your Medicare savings by connecting with a licensed insurance agent. Annual Enrollment is open until December 7th.
Who Is Eligible to Make Changes During Annual Open Enrollment?
During Medicare annual open enrollment, anyone with any type of Medicare plan can make changes to their coverage.Who Can Make Changes During Medicare’s Annual Open Enrollment
- People with Original Medicare can switch to Medicare Advantage (if enrolled in Medicare Part B).
- People with Medicare Advantage plans can switch to Original Medicare (and can add a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan and may be able to add a Medigap plan).
- People with a Medicare Advantage plan can switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan.
- People with a Medicare Part D drug plan can switch to a different Part D plan.
- People with Original Medicare can enroll in a Part D plan for the first time.
- People with a Medicare Part D plan can drop it completely.
Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment
There’s a chance to change Medicare Advantage plans from Jan. 1 to March 31.
Your options are more limited during this specific Medicare Advantage open enrollment period.
You can still switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another or drop your current Part C plan and return to Original Medicare.
The Medicare Advantage open enrollment period isn’t meant for people who already have Original Medicare coverage.
But if you are unhappy with the Medicare Advantage plan you purchased during the annual Medicare open enrollment period — Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 — then you can switch Medicare Advantage plans again during the Medicare Advantage open enrollment period.There are a few things you can’t do during the Medicare Advantage enrollment period, including:
- Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan.
- Join a Part D plan if you're in Original Medicare.
- Switch from one Part D plan to another if you're enrolled in Original Medicare.
After your plan provider receives your request to join, your new coverage will begin the first day of the following month.
If you want to switch to a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan, you must have Part A and Part B first. You must also live in the plan’s service area.
Most people with end-stage renal disease cannot join a Medicare Advantage plan.
Reasons People Leave or Change Medicare Advantage Plans
There are several reasons why someone may want to leave or change their Medicare Advantage plan. The common thread is that the plan may not be right for them because their plan’s costs and coverage has changed.Why People Switch or Drop Medicare Advantage Plans
- One of your doctors is not part of the plan’s network
- A drug you need is no longer part of the plan’s formulary
- Limited doctor or hospital network
- Coinsurance or copayments are too high
- Additional benefits are not worth it
Medigap Open Enrollment
Medigap open enrollment should not be confused with the Medicare annual open enrollment period that runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7 each year. You cannot change Medigap coverage during the annual Medicare open enrollment period.
But you may be able to enroll in a Medigap policy if you switch from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare during the annual open enrollment period. However, it can be more complicated.
Medigap has its own open enrollment period. The Medigap open enrollment period begins the month you turn 65 and enroll in Medicare Part B. The enrollment period lasts six months.
It’s a one-time opportunity and can’t be repeated.
According to CMS, you’re more likely to get a better, more affordable Medigap policy if you sign up during that special six-month Medigap open enrollment period.
Medigap, also known as Medicare supplemental insurance, is sold by private insurance companies and helps pay for costs Original Medicare doesn’t cover, including coinsurance, deductibles and copayments.
During your Medigap open enrollment period, you can purchase any Medigap policy in your state, regardless of your current health status.
Once the six-month window closes, private insurers that administer Medigap plans can use medical underwriting to decide whether to accept your application.
In other words, you may not be able to purchase a Medigap policy later — or it might be too expensive.
There are some situations when you may qualify for guaranteed issue rights, or protections that prevent insurance companies from denying you a Medigap policy even after your open enrollment period ends.
This includes when a Medigap company goes out of business or commits fraud.
Reasons People Leave or Change Medigap Plans
People typically leave or change Medigap plans during their open enrollment period if they see no reason to keep the coverage or find a better deal.Top 4 Reasons People Switch or Drop Medigap Policies
- They’re paying for benefits they don’t need
- They want more benefits another plan can offer
- They want to change insurance companies
- They want a Medigap policy that costs less
Medicare Part D Enrollment
Most Medicare Advantage plans include Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage. Original Medicare does not pay for the prescription drugs that you may routinely take at home. So, if you switch from a Medicare Advantage plan to Original Medicare during the open enrollment period, you will most likely lose prescription drug coverage.
You can buy a Medicare Part D plan if you make this switch.
If you already have Original Medicare and a Part D plan, you can also switch to another Medicare Part D plan during the open enrollment period.
Reasons People Leave or Change Medicare Part D Plans
The details of your Medicare Part D plan can change each year.
For example, drug costs can increase, and private companies may modify their list of in-network providers and pharmacies.
Prescription drug coverage may also fluctuate. Your plan may no longer cover a drug you need, so you may want to switch to another plan that covers it.3 Minute Quiz: Can You Retire Comfortably?Take our free quiz & match with a financial advisor in 3 easy steps. Tailored to your goals. Near you or online.
How to Manage the Medicare Open Enrollment Marketing Overload
Medicare Advantage, Medigap and Medicare Part D prescription drug plans are all provided by private insurers. There are thousands of these plans available across the United States, though not all plans are necessarily available in all states or counties.
Because of this, advertising for changing Medicare plans tends to pick up around the annual Medicare and Medicare Advantage open enrollment periods — typically in the early fall to the end of March.
Medicare enrollees can be bombarded with television ads, direct mail fliers or phone calls urging them to switch Medicare coverage.
Before you make any changes to your Medicare coverage, you should review your options. Your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) provides free, unbiased counselors to help you compare your Medicare options.
You can use the SHIP locator tool to find your nearest counselor.
The time around Medicare and Medicare Advantage open enrollment periods may also see a spike in Medicare scams. Stolen Medicare numbers can be used to bill Medicare for services and supplies that are never delivered.
You should be aware, and report suspected fraud or scams to Medicare.Avoid Medicare Fraud and Scams
- Aggressive or threatening sales tactics are a sign of a scammer.
- Avoid door-to-door salespeople touting Medicare services or plans.
- Beware of mail or email solicitations seeking your Medicare information.
- Be wary of Medicare plans, products, benefits or services offered to you — check with the provider to make sure it is legitimate.
- Check your Medicare statements for unusual charges.
- Keep your Medicare card in a safe place — treat it like you would a credit card.
- Medicare plan salesmen cannot enter your home without your permission.
- Medicare will never call you to request your number.
- Never give your Medicare number to anyone except your health care provider or an authorized Medicare agent you contact yourself.
- Unsolicited phone calls about Medicare services, benefits or plans may be a scam.
Report Medicare scams or fraud to Medicare immediately. You can call Medicare toll free at 1-800-633-4227 (TTY 1-877-486-2048) 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to report scams or fraud.
Frequently Asked Questions About Medicare Open EnrollmentWhen does Medicare open enrollment start?Medicare fall open enrollment takes place from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. Medicare Advantage open enrollment is Jan. 1 to March 31. Medigap open enrollment is a six-month window that begins the month you turn 65 and are enrolled in Medicare Part B.When is Medicare Part D open enrollment?You can sign up for a Part D plan or switch to a new prescription drug plan during the open enrollment period from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.Do I need to change Medicare plans?It’s important to review your Medicare plans during open enrollment. Benefits and costs can change from year to year, so switching to a different plan may provide you with more affordable coverage.What is the difference between Medicare open enrollment and annual enrollment?Medicare annual enrollment is another name for Medicare open enrollment — the annual fall enrollment period from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 each year. This is different from Medicare Advantage open enrollment, which is from Jan. 1 to March 31 each year.What happens if I do nothing or miss Medicare open enrollment?If you do nothing during an open enrollment period, your coverage simply rolls over into the next year. You’ll typically have to wait until the next open enrollment period to make changes unless you qualify for a special enrollment period.Can I make more than one change during this enrollment window?You can make multiple changes to your Medicare coverage during the annual Medicare enrollment period. The changes all take effect on Jan. 1. This differs for other open enrollment periods — for example, you can only make one change during the Medicare Advantage enrollment period Jan. 1 to March 31.Do I have to answer any health questions to make changes?Medigap companies cannot use medical underwriting during your Medigap open enrollment period, which is the six months after you enroll in Medicare Part B and are 65 or older. They cannot refuse to sell you a Medigap policy or make you wait for coverage to start based on your health condition. If you buy a Medicare Advantage plan when you’re first eligible for Medicare, then switch to Original Medicare within 12 months, you do not have to answer health questions to get Medigap.Last Modified: October 23, 2023
5 Cited Research Articles
- Medicare.gov. (2022, Sepetmber). Medicare and You 2023; The Official U.S. Government Medicare Handbook. Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/publications/10050-Medicare-and-You.pdf
- Medicare.gov. (2021, September). Understanding Medicare Advantage & Prescription Drug Plan Enrollment Period. Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/Pubs/pdf/11219-Understanding-Medicare-Part-C-D.pdf
- Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. (n.d.). Medicare Open Enrollment. Retrieved from https://www.cms.gov/Outreach-and-Education/Reach-Out/Find-tools-to-help-you-help-others/Medicare-Open-Enrollment
- Medicare.gov. (n.d.). Part A & Part B sign up periods. Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/basics/get-started-with-medicare/sign-up/when-does-medicare-coverage-start
- Medicare.gov. (n.d.). When can I buy a Medigap policy? Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/supplements-other-insurance/when-can-i-buy-medigap
- Edited By
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