You get a special time to enroll when life changes cause you to lose your existing coverage.
A Medicare Special Election Period (SEP) allows you to enroll in Medicare or change your coverage outside of your Initial Enrollment Period or other enrollment periods without penalty. There are different SEPs to cover different circumstances. Each SEP has its own rules about timing and what you can do during that time.
Special Election Period for end of employment or employee health coverage
You may qualify for an SEP if the health insurance you have through your or your spouse's current employer is ending. You can enroll in Original Medicare (Parts A and B) up to 8 months after the employment or health insurance ends, whichever comes first. You may also qualify for an SEP to enroll in Original Medicare anytime while your employee health insurance is active.
If you want to enroll a Medicare Advantage (Part C) or prescription drug (Part D) plan at this time, then you have to act fast. You must do it within two months after your employment or health insurance ends. Otherwise, you’ll have to stay with Original Medicare until the next Medicare Open Enrollment. Medicare Open Enrollment runs from October 15 to December 7 every year. You can change your Medicare coverage at that time.
COBRA and retiree health plans are not considered employee health coverage. You are not eligible for this SEP when that coverage ends. However, you may be eligible for a different SEP.
Special Election Period for qualifying events
You can make changes to your Medicare Advantage and/or Medicare prescription drug coverage when certain events happen in your life. Rules about when you can make changes and the type of changes you can make are different for each situation. Some events that may qualify you for an SEP include:
- 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.
- Other special situations.
In general, your SEP will begin the first day of the month that the qualifying event takes place. It ends two months later.
What you can do
What you can do depends on the specific SEP you qualify for. For more information about SEPs, call toll-free 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) 24 hours a day, seven days a week. TTY users can call toll-free 1-877-486-2048. Or visit Medicare.gov.
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