If you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, then you are likely familiar with the Open Enrollment Period (also known as the Annual Enrollment Period) that happens each year from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.
This is when you can sign up for Medicare Advantage (if you didn’t do so during your Initial Enrollment Period), change from Medicare Advantage back to Original Medicare, or switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan. You may also add, drop, or switch standalone Part D prescription drug plans, if applicable.
But what about the other 10 months of the year? Can you make any changes to your Medicare Advantage coverage at any other time outside of the Open Enrollment Period?
Fortunately, you can. If you missed the fall enrollment deadline of Dec. 7, you have another window of opportunity in the new year. The Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period runs each year from Jan. 1 to Feb. 14. During this time, you may only drop your Medicare Advantage plan and switch back to Original Medicare.
But the fall Annual Enrollment Period is the only time of the year that you may change from one Medicare Advantage plan to another without being granted a Special Enrollment Period.
Some situations in which a Special Enrollment Period may be granted to make changes to a Medicare Advantage plan:
Below is a brief summary of each type of Special Enrollment Period that can be used to drop, change or add Medicare Advantage coverage.
If you had a Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage which met Medicare’s standards of “creditable” coverage and you were to lose that coverage through no fault of your own, you may enroll in a new Medicare Advantage plan with creditable drug coverage beginning the month you received notice of your coverage change and lasting for two months after the loss of coverage (or two months after receiving the notice, whichever is later).
Additionally, if you wish to disenroll from a Medicare Advantage plan with drug coverage and enroll in another form of creditable coverage such as VA, TRICARE or a state pharmaceutical assistance program, you may do so whenever you become eligible for enrollment in the new coverage.
If you wish to disenroll from employer or union-sponsored coverage (including a group-sponsored Medicare Advantage plan) in order to enroll in Medicare Advantage, or you wish to disenroll from Medicare Advantage in order to join an employer or union-sponsored plan, you may do so for up to two months following the end of your previous coverage.
If you move into, out of, or currently reside in a facility of special care such as a skilled nursing home or long-term care hospital, you may enroll in, disenroll from, or change a Medicare Advantage plan one time per month. Once you move out from the facility, you will be given two months to do the same.
If you are enrolled in a State Pharmaceutical Assistance Program (SPAP), you may join or switch Medicare Advantage plans once per year at a time of your choosing.
If you are enrolled in Medicaid, a Medicare Savings Program (MSP) or Extra Help, you may join, disenroll from or switch Medicare Advantage plans beginning the month you first become eligible for Medicaid or MSP and may continue to switch plans once a month thereafter.
If you lose Medicaid, MSP or Extra Help benefits, you will be granted a one-time opportunity to make changes in your Medicare Advantage enrollment.
If you enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan when you first became eligible for Medicare, you have 12 months to disenroll from the plan and transition back to Original Medicare.
If you dropped a Medicare Supplement Insurance plan to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan but wish to revert back again, you have 12 months to do so (provided that was the first Medicare Advantage plan you had ever been enrolled in).
You may disenroll from a Medicare Advantage plan to enroll in a PACE program at any time.
If you wish to disenroll from PACE in order to join a Medicare Advantage plan, you may do so for up to two months following your PACE disenrollment.
If you permanently move out of your Medicare Advantage plan’s coverage area or move to an area with more available plans, you may switch to another Medicare Advantage plan beginning the month before your move and lasting for two months.
If you moved back to the U.S. after living abroad, you may enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan within the same timeframe.
If you have received a retroactive enrollment in Medicare, you may enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan for the first time beginning the month you receive notice of your Medicare eligibility and continuing for two months thereafter.
If you are eligible to enroll in a Special Needs Plan (SNP), you may leave a Medicare Advantage plan at any time in order to do so.
If you are already enrolled in an SNP but are losing your eligibility, you may join a Medicare Advantage plan beginning the month that you are no longer eligible for the SNP and lasting for three months.
If you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan that failed to provide benefits in accordance with the plan’s terms or provided misleading information about coverage or other circumstances, you may be given an opportunity to disenroll from or switch to a new Medicare Advantage plan. The timeframe in which you may do so will depend on the situation.
If your Medicare Advantage plan fails to renew its service for the next calendar year, you have from Dec. 8 through the last day in February to switch to a different plan.
If the failure to renew becomes effective mid-year, you may switch to a new Medicare Advantage plan beginning two months prior to the end of coverage and lasting a total of three months.
If your Medicare Advantage plan is terminated for other reasons, you may switch to a new plan beginning one month before termination and continuing for two more months thereafter.
If you enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan prior to turning 65 because of a qualifying disability, you will be granted another enrollment period upon turning 65. During this seven-month period, you may switch Medicare Advantage plans or revert back to Original Medicare.
If you want to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan that has been awarded a five-star Plan Performance Rating,1 you may do so between Dec. 8 and Nov. 30 of the following year.
If you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan that has received a Plan Performance Rating of three stars or less for three consecutive years,1 you may enroll in a higher rated plan throughout the year.
If your Medicare Advantage plan ceases contracts with many of its providers and these terminations are considered substantial, you will be granted a one-time opportunity to switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan. The period given to make the change will begin the month you are notified of the opportunity and will continue for two months thereafter.
If your circumstances do not fit into any of the Special Enrollment Periods described above, you may ask the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for your own Special Enrollment Period based on your situation.
The circumstances in which you can make changes to a Medicare Advantage plan outside of the Annual Enrollment Period can be complex. And it’s important for everyone to obtain the health care coverage they need. With that said, the best thing you can do if you wish to enroll in, disenroll from or switch Medicare Advantage plans is to contact a licensed insurance agent who can help analyze your situation and provide you with an option that works for you.
1 Medicare evaluates plans based on a 5-star rating system. Star Ratings are calculated each year and may change from one year to the next.
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