There are 2 enrollment periods that run concurrently from January 1 through March 31:
General Enrollment Period (GEP)
The GEP is primarily used by those who did not sign up for Part B during their Initial enrollment period and who do not have a special enrollment period. It also applies to those who must pay a premium for Part A and who did not sign up when first eligible for Medicare. This is the only time of year these individuals can enroll in Medicare. Coverage will start the month after enrollment. Also, they may have to pay a late enrollment penalty that lasts as long as they have Medicare (Part B) or twice as many years as they weren’t covered (Part A).
Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (MAOEP)
The MAOEP can be used only by those already enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan to:
- Change to a different Medicare Advantage Plan with or without drug coverage, or
- Drop their Medicare Advantage plan and return to original Medicare and enroll in a Prescription Drug Plan (PDP).
Those with a Medicare Advantage Plan and a stand-alone prescription drug plan can drop the Medicare Advantage plan but cannot change the prescription drug plan. Those with Original Medicare with or without a Medigap plan or stand-alone prescription drug plan cannot use this enrollment period to change or join a prescription drug plan or join a Medicare Advantage Plan. Changes made during the MAOEP will go into effect the first day of the following month.
Before dropping a Medicare Advantage Plan, individuals should consider how they will handle the costs associated with Original Medicare, such as deductibles, coinsurances and copayments. The MAOEP does not include the right to purchase a Medicare Supplemental Insurance (Medigap) policy with guaranteed issue. This means that an insurance company may or may not accept an applicant with underlying medical conditions. It always pays to investigate this option before dropping a Medicare Advantage Plan.