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When can I join a Part D prescription drug plan — or switch plans if I already have coverage?


​Because Medicare covers many of your health care expenses except for prescription drug coverage, when it comes to signing up for Part D or changing your current drug plan, timing is everything.

Video: Will Medicare Part D Pay for All of My Prescription Drugs?

You have two ways to get coverage: Buy a stand-alone Part D prescription drug plan, or sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan that combines medical and drug coverage. Private insurance companies that Medicare regulates offer both types of plans. Keep in mind, you can enroll only during certain times:

  • Initial enrollment period, the seven-month period that begins on the first day of the month that falls three months before the month you turn 65 and lasts for three months after the birthday month.
  • Open enrollment period, which runs annually from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, with coverage beginning Jan. 1. You also can switch to a different Part D or Medicare Advantage plan during this time.​
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Who can change Part D plans during special enrollment?

You may be able to sign up or switch Part D plans at other times if you’re eligible for a special enrollment period. To qualify, you need to meet certain criteria, such as if you:

  • Lose health care coverage from your employer or union. You usually have up to two months to join a Part D or Medicare Advantage plan.
  • Lose drug coverage that is considered to be at least as good as a basic Part D plan, called “creditable coverage.” Then you usually have up to two months to get Part D or a Medicare Advantage plan with drug coverage. Creditable coverage may come from an employer, a retiree plan, Tricare or another source. You’ll usually receive a notice every September letting you know if your coverage is creditable.
  • Move to a new address that isn’t in your plan’s service area. You usually have up to two months to switch to a new Part D or Medicare Advantage plan.
  • Receive financial assistance from the Part D Extra Help program. You can switch Part D plans as much as once per calendar quarter during the first three quarters of the year.
  • Find a Medicare Advantage or Part D plan in your area that received a five-star quality rating from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). You can join that plan during the five-star special enrollment period, which lasts from Dec. 8 through Nov. 30 of the following year. It can be used once a year. Enrollment takes effect the first day of the month after the plan receives the enrollment request.

For more information about special enrollment periods, visit Medicare.gov.

Can I sign up or change plans at other times?

You need to be enrolled in Medicare Part A or Part B to get Part D coverage. You can sign up for Part D after enrolling in Medicare because of special enrollment reasons, too. For example, if you sign up for Part A and/or Part B because of an exceptional situation (such as a natural disaster), you’ll have two months to join a Part D plan or a Medicare Advantage plan with or without drug coverage. Your coverage will start the first day of the month after the plan gets your request.

See Special Enrollment Periods at Medicare.gov for a list of the eligible situations when you can sign up or switch plans.

If you already have a Medicare Advantage plan, you can switch to another plan or switch from MA to original Medicare and get a Part D plan during the Medicare Advantage open enrollment period from Jan. 1 to March 31 each year.

Keep in mind

If you don’t sign up for Part D when you’re first eligible and you don’t have other creditable coverage, you may have to pay a late enrollment penalty.

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