If you’re preparing to enroll or are already enrolled in Medicare, there are certain important dates to keep in mind. These dates include the annual election period (AEP) and the open enrollment period (OEP). At first glance these two important time periods may seem the same, but they actually take place at different times of the year and serve very different purposes.
What’s the difference between AEP and OEP?
The annual election period, or AEP, is an eight-week period that runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. During this time, Medicare-eligible individuals can sign up or change their Medicare plan — plus you’re allowed to change your mind and swap plans at any time during AEP.
The open enrollment period, or OEP, runs from Jan. 1 to March 31. During this time, Medicare Advantage enrollees may only make one change to either another Medicare Advantage plan or disenroll and return to Original Medicare.
If you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, you can leave your plan and return to Original Medicare and buy a Part D prescription drug plan to supplement your Original Medicare. As of 2019, you also have the option to switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan during this time.
Only one plan change during this time frame is allowed each year — you can change your mind multiple times during AEP in the fall but can only switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan (or back to Original Medicare) once in the first quarter of the new year.
There are a few options for members during OEP. During the Medicare OEP, Medicare members can change their current Medicare Advantage plan to a new Medicare Advantage plan, or they can change their Medicare Advantage plan to Original Medicare.
Why is there an open enrollment period for Medicare?
With both AEP and OEP, you may wonder why Medicare has two enrollment periods throughout the year. This is because Medicare is a complicated system and it’s easy to get confused about your options. Some beneficiaries don’t fully understand how their plan and network work until they see it in action. Others change plans without seeking help from experts first and may overlook certain important plan factors. OEP for Medicare allows members to change their plan soon after it takes effect, rather than having to wait until the following year’s AEP.
If you’re thinking about changing your Medicare plan, do your research. Ask your friends and family how they feel about their plan, plus seek the advice of experts — and don’t forget to write down important enrollment dates.