En español | Medicare’s open enrollment period (Oct. 15 to Dec. 7) is only for people who wish to change the regular Medicare coverage that they receive through the original Medicare program, a Medicare Advantage plan or a Part D prescription drug plan. It is not for people who wish to buy, or change, Medigap supplemental insurance, which is not a government program but private insurance that people can choose to buy separately to cover some of their out-of-pocket Part A and Part B expenses in original Medicare.
(Note: The following information applies only to people with Medicare who are 65 or older. If you are under 65 and have Medicare on the basis of disability, the rules that determine your ability to buy or change Medigap policies depend on the laws of your state. Check with your state department of insurance.)
Medigap policies can be bought, or changed, at any time of the year. But it is only at special times that you can buy a policy with federal protections known as “guaranteed issue.” These important protections prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage or charging higher premiums based on health status or preexisting conditions if you buy Medigap policies during certain periods. Outside of those periods, they can do both — unless you live in one of the few states that allow you to buy Medigap with guaranteed issue at any time of the year.
The most common time for buying Medigap with guaranteed issue is within six months of your Medicare Part B coverage going into effect. (This six-month time frame is also referred to as “open enrollment” for Medigap, which is why it is often confused with Medicare’s open enrollment period.)
But be careful. In most cases, this six-month period is a once-only opportunity. So if you have employer coverage after age 65 — and that coverage is primary — but you still sign up for Part B at 65, you will not be entitled to this period of guaranteed issue if you want Medigap insurance after you retire.
The exception here is if your employer insurance is secondary to Medicare — which it might be if the employer has fewer than 20 employees and requires you to sign up with Part B on turning 65. In this situation, you are entitled to federal protections when you retire, provided that you buy a Medigap policy within 63 days of the employer coverage ending.
Other circumstances in which you can buy a Medigap policy with guaranteed issue include:
Note that if you have Medicare under age 65 due to disability, when you turn 65 you will be entitled to another six-month period to buy the Medigap policy of your choice with guaranteed issue. This is a legal right under federal law — regardless of whether you’ve had a Medigap policy before, or whether you already have Part B coverage, or where you live. This six-month period begins when you turn 65 and become eligible for Medicare based on age instead of disability.