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Understanding Medicare Open Enrollment Period (OEP)

Medicare enrollment periods are extremely important; understanding them can have significant impact on your health coverage and costs. The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (OEP) is a new period in 2019, and it’s easier to understand it in context of the other Medicare enrollment periods. Here’s a simple guide to the major enrollment periods:

Medicare Open Enrollment Period (OEP)

Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) — The seven-month period surrounding an individual’s 65th birthday, during which they are eligible to sign up for Original Medicare, Medicare Advantage plans, and Medicare Supplement plans. Learn more

Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) — A yearly enrollment period that usually runs from October 15 - December 7. Individuals can join or switch Medicare plans. Learn more

Open Enrollment Period (OEP) — This period is new for 2019. From January 1 - March 31, individuals can make one change between Medicare Advantage plans or swap from a Medicare Advantage plan to Original Medicare only.

Special Enrollment Period (SEP) — An enrollment period dependent on specific conditions, such as losing health coverage or being affected by a declared emergency like a hurricane or earthquake. Learn more

Why was OEP created?

This beginning-of-year enrollment period is a direct follow-up to AEP, which occurs near the end of every year. Insurance plans run on a calendar year basis, and Medicare Advantage beneficiaries may discover that the plan they enrolled in during AEP does not actually suit their needs. The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (OEP) gives those individuals the chance to make a change to their coverage rather than being stuck in the same plan for an entire year.

What changes can be made during OEP?

This enrollment period applies to you only if you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan. If you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, you have one opportunity to:

  • Switch to another Medicare Advantage plan
  • Drop your Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare (Parts A and B)
    • If you do this, you will be eligible to join a Part D (prescription drug) plan.
    • This switch does not make you eligible for a Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plan. You can still go through medical underwriting to qualify for a Medigap plan.

OEP vs. OEP-New

The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period is yearly and only for three months, but there is another open enrollment period called OEP-New. This period is not tied to any specific dates, but is different for every individual.

During an individual’s Initial Enrollment Period (IEP), when they first become Medicare eligible, they have a special OEP-New. From your Medicare-effective date—for example, the month you turn 65—you have three months in which you are allowed to switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another. This is OEP-New.

OEP Recap

The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (OEP) is new in 2019. It happens January 1 - March 31. During OEP, members of Medicare Advantage plans can make one change to their coverage. They may either switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan or return to Original Medicare. Changing plans during this time is not required.