Medicare enrollment periods
There are specific times when you can join, change, or drop a Medicare plan. In other words, you are not allowed to enroll or disenroll whenever you want. Here are the 5 Medicare enrollment periods:
1. Initial Coverage Election Period (ICEP)
This is when you first become eligible for Medicare, which for most people is when they turn 65. You may sign up for Medicare Parts A and B as well as a Medicare health plan:
- 3 months before your birthday month
- Your birthday month
- 3 months after your birthday month
This Initial Coverage Election Period also applies in the following scenarios, though with different enrollment time frames:
- If you're newly eligible for Medicare because you have a disability and you're younger than 65. Sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan during the 7-month period that starts 3 months before your 25th month of getting Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) disability benefits, includes your 25th month of getting disability benefit, and ends 3 months after your 25th month of getting disability benefits.
- If you're already eligible for Medicare because of a disability and you turn 65. Sign up for Medicare Advantage during the 7 months surrounding your 65th birthday.
- You have Medicare Part A coverage, and you get Part B for the first time by enrolling during the Part B General Enrollment Period (January 1 through March 31). Sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan from April 1 through June 30. Coverage becomes effective July 1.
2. Annual Enrollment Period
This is a short window of time each fall when all Medicare beneficiaries are allowed to change or drop a Medicare Advantage plan or Part D prescription drug plan. For 2019 it's October 15 through December 7. Coverage changes are effective January 1.
During this time you can:
- Change from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan
- Change from a Medicare Advantage plan back to Original Medicare
- Switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another Medicare Advantage plan
- Switch from a Medicare Advantage plan that doesn't offer drug coverage to a Medicare Advantage plan that offers drug coverage
- Switch from a Medicare Advantage plan that offers drug coverage to a Medicare Advantage plan that doesn't offer drug coverage
- Join a Medicare Prescription Drug plan
- Switch from one Medicare Prescription Drug plan to another Medicare Prescription Drug plan
- Drop your Medicare prescription drug coverage completely
3. Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period
The MA OEP is an enrollment period that allows Medicare Advantage plan enrollees to enroll in another MA plan or disenroll from their MA plan and return to Original Medicare. The MA OEP occurs annually January 1 through March 31.
During this time you can:
- If you're in a Medicare Advantage plan (with or without drug coverage), you can switch to another Medicare Advantage plan (with or without drug coverage)
- You can disenroll from your Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare. If you choose to do so, you'll be able to join a Medicare Prescription Drug plan.
During this time you can't:
- Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan
- Join a Medicare Prescription Drug plan if you're in Original Medicare
- Switch from one Medicare Prescription Drug plan to another if you're in Original Medicare
The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period also applies to you if you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan during your Initial Enrollment Period or Initial Coverage Enrollment Period (ICEP) and allows you to make one change to another Medicare Advantage plan (with or without drug coverage) or go back to Original Medicare (with or without drug coverage) within the first 3 months of your entitlement to Medicare Part A and B.
4. Special Enrollment Periods
Special Enrollment Periods exist for beneficiaries who lose coverage because of certain qualifying events. For example, you can enroll outside of the standard enrollment periods if you:
- Lose employer-sponsored or group coverage
- Move out of your plan's service area
- Are also eligible for Medicaid
- Live in a nursing home
For a more detailed list of Special Enrollment Periods, check out the Medicare website.
5. 5-Star Special Enrollment Period
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency that oversees Medicare, measures health plan quality on a scale of 1 to 5 stars (a 5-Star rating is the highest) to help you make an informed decision about your coverage. You can switch to a 5-star plan once between December 8 and November 30 under these guidelines:
- You can only switch to a 5-star Medicare Prescription Drug plan if one is available in your area
- You may switch one time. (After you switch, your next opportunity to make a change is during the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period.)
- Your current plan must be either Original Medicare (with or without a Medigap plan) or a Medicare Advantage plan
Learn about Medicare health plans for group, state, and federal employees
If you are becoming eligible for Medicare and your employer offers a group retiree Medicare Advantage health plan through Kaiser Permanente Washington, call us at 1-800-581-8252 or TTY WA Relay 711 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
PEBB and FEHB members can also find information online:
Key Medicare enrollment dates
Medicare Annual Enrollment Period (AEP)
October 15 through December 7
Medicare Initial Coverage Election Period (ICEP)
65th birthday month + 3 months before and after
Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (OEP)
January 1 through March 31
Medicare Star Quality Ratings
Our Medicare Advantage health plan in Washington was rated 4.5 out of 5 Stars for 2019. Our 4.5 out of 5 Star rating is based on quality, service, and member satisfaction, so you get the peace of mind that comes with knowing you're getting high-quality care. 1