When Is Medicare Open Enrollment?

During this period each fall, you can select a new Medicare Advantage or Part D plan or switch back to original Medicare.

A sign by a road says open enrollment ahead.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It’s that time of year again when you have to make important decisions about your Medicare coverage. Keep in mind, though, that this period is almost over. Enrollment will close in less than a week on Thursday Dec. 7. 

There are 2 main ways to get your Medicare coverage — Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) and Medicare Advantage. When open enrollment begins, you shop for the plan that suits your needs and lifestyle best. 

When is open enrollment?

Medicare open enrollment runs from October 15 to December 7 each year. During this period, you can switch from original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan, or vice versa. You can also choose a new Advantage plan or new Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage. Coverage will begin in 2024.

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When is general enrollment? 

During this time, if you didn’t sign up for Medicare when you turned 65 and you don’t qualify for a special enrollment period, you can enroll in Parts A and B. Medicare Advantage beneficiaries can also switch to a new Advantage plan or back to original Medicare.

Starting January 1, 2024, if you have to pay for Part A, and you sign up for Part B during the general enrollment period (January 1 – March 31), you can also join a Medicare drug plan when you sign up for Part B. You’ll have 2 months after signing up for Part B to join a drug plan. Your drug coverage will start the month after the plan gets your request to join.

When you enroll during the general enrollment period your coverage begins the first of the month after you enroll. For example, if you enroll in January, your coverage begins February 1.

Enrolling in Medicare during the GEP means you may have to pay a Part B premium penalty. 

What is special enrollment? 

After your initial enrollment period is over, you may have a chance to sign up for Medicare during a special enrollment period. If you experience a qualifying life event, you may be able to enroll or change a selection and possibly do so without having to pay a late enrollment penalty. The Medicare site offers a Q&A on how to qualify for the special enrollment period to give you a general explanation of qualifying circumstances.

Qualifying life events for special enrollment:

  • You change where you live
  • You lose your current coverage
  • You have a chance to get other coverage
  • Your plan changes its contract with Medicare
  • Exceptional situations for a special enrollment period — You may be eligible if you miss an enrollment period because of certain exceptional circumstances, like being impacted by a natural disaster or an emergency, incarceration, employer or health plan error, losing Medicaid coverage, or other circumstances outside of your control that Medicare determines to be exceptional

Starting January 1, 2024, if you sign up for Part A or Part B during a special enrollment period because of an exceptional condition, you’ll have 2 months to join a Medicare Advantage Plan (with or without drug coverage) or a Medicare drug plan (Part D). Your coverage will start the first day of the month after the Medicare Advantage Plan gets your request to join.

Waiver of the Part B enrollment penalty. If you don’t sign up for Part B when you’re first eligible, you may have to pay a late enrollment penalty for as long as you have Part B. Your monthly Part B premium may go up 10% for each full 12 months in the period that you could’ve had Part B, but didn’t sign up. If you’re allowed to sign up for Part B during a special enrollment period, you usually don’t pay a late enrollment penalty.

Help choosing a plan

Medicare provides a tool to help you compare the costs of different medigap, Medicare Advantage and Part D prescription drug plans. The tool will tell you the out-of-pocket maximum and what your specific medications would cost for different Medicare Advantage plans while giving you price ranges for medigap plans available in your area. You can also enter details about your specific medications and see what these would cost under your Part D options.

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Personal Finance Writer

Donna joined Kiplinger as a personal finance writer in 2023. She spent more than a decade as the contributing editor of J.K.Lasser's Your Income Tax Guide and edited state specific legal treatises at ALM Media. She has shared her expertise as a guest on Bloomberg, CNN, Fox, NPR, CNBC and many other media outlets around the nation. Donna graduated from Brooklyn Law School and University at Buffalo. 

With contributions from