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When Should I Enroll in a Medicare Supplement Plan?


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If you’ve had Original Medicare for a while, you may have heard of how Medicare Supplement plans may help with certain costs that Medicare doesn’t cover. Medicare Supplement plans work alongside your Medicare Part A and Part B benefits to help pay for costs that Medicare doesn’t cover, like copayments, coinsurance, deductibles, and overseas travel coverage.

Here’s an overview on how the timing of your enrollment affects your Medicare Supplement coverage.

When to enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan

The best time to enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan is during your Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period, the six-month period that starts when you’re 65 or older and enrolled in Medicare Part B. During this time frame, you have “guaranteed issue rights,” meaning you have a guaranteed right to enroll in any Medicare Supplement plan offered by any private insurance company in your state.

During your Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period:

  • Medical underwriting can’t be used by the insurance company when deciding whether to sell you a Medicare Supplement plan.
  • Your health status or pre-existing conditions can’t be taken into consideration when determining Medicare Supplement plan premiums.
  • The insurance company must cover all of your pre-existing conditions.
  • The insurance company can’t make you wait before covering your pre-existing conditions if you enroll during your Open Enrollment Period and are replacing “creditable coverage” — that is, any health coverage that you had for at least six continuous months before enrolling in the Medicare Supplement plan. Most types of health insurance are “creditable,” as long as you didn’t have a gap in coverage longer than 63 days (see below for more information).

In certain cases, insurance companies may make you wait up to six months before covering pre-existing conditions, known as a “pre-existing condition waiting period.”

After this waiting period is over, the Medicare Supplement plan will cover all of your health conditions. However, if you enroll when you have a guaranteed issue right, the insurance company can’t make you wait before covering your pre-existing conditions.

Enrolling in Medicare Supplement plans if you’re under 65

Please note that insurance companies aren’t required to offer Medicare Supplement plans to you if you’re under 65 years old. For example, if you have Medicare because of disability or end-stage renal disease.

Some states may require insurance companies to sell Medicare Supplement plans to people under 65, but you may only be able to enroll in certain plans. Check with the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) in your state for more information on Medicare Supplement plan rules in your state.

Enrolling after your Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period is over

Now that you know when to enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan, what do you do if you’ve already missed your Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period?

You may have guaranteed-issue rights in some situations, like if you’re in a Medicare Advantage plan and move out of the plan’s area of service, or your Medicare Advantage plan leaves Medicare. But for the most part, you’ll generally have more limited options when it comes to the Medicare Supplement plans available to you.

Once your one-time Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period is over, insurance companies may:

  • Require medical underwriting when considering your application.
  • Charge you higher premiums for your plan based on your health or pre-existing conditions.
  • Deny you coverage based on your health status.

If you’re trying to enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan for the first time, it could be hard for you to find a plan that will accept you when you have pre-existing health conditions. And even if you’re already enrolled in a Medicare Supplement plan, it may be more difficult to switch to a different plan if you have health problems. Or, you could have to pay much higher premiums for your plan than you would have if you had applied during your Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period.

Finding Medicare Supplement plans

Hopefully you have a clearer picture of how enrollment works and when to enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan.

If you’re ready to start browsing plan options in your area, it’s easy to do so: just enter your zip code on this page.

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