Medicare Initial Coverage Election Period (ICEP) Explained

In this article...
  • Your Medicare ICEP is your first chance to enroll in Medicare Advantage (Part C) coverage. Learn more about what distinguishes this period from your Medicare IEP and other enrollment periods, and find out what you can do during this important period.

There are several different Medicare enrollment periods, and it’s important for you to understand what you can do during each type of enrollment period. 

In this guide, we’re going to explain what your Medicare Initial Coverage Election Period (ICEP) is and what you can do during this period.

What’s the Difference Between IEP and ICEP?

Put simply, your Medicare ICEP is your first opportunity to choose a Medicare Advantage (Medicare Part C) plan to replace your Original Medicare (Medicare Part A and Part B) coverage.

  • Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) is the public portion of Medicare that is administered by the federal government. 

  • Medicare Advantage plans are sold by private insurance companies and provide all of the same benefits covered by Original Medicare. Many Medicare Advantage plans, however, offer additional benefits such as prescription drug coverage and routine dental and hearing care, which Original Medicare doesn’t cover.

Your Medicare IEP is your Medicare Initial Enrollment Period. This is the first time that you can enroll in Original Medicare, Part A and Part B.

Your Medicare IEP and your Medicare ICEP are very similar and often happen during roughly the same period.

If you enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B when you turn 65, your ICEP will run concurrently with your IEP. Your IEP is an enrollment period that begins three months before you turn 65, includes the month of your birthday and continues on for three more months, for a total of seven months.

Medicare Part B is optional, and some people choose to delay their Part B enrollment. If you do not sign up for Part B during your IEP but then sign up for it later on, your ICEP will begin three months before your Part B coverage is set to begin, and it will end on the last day of the month before your Part B coverage begins.

Here are some examples to help explain the difference between your ICEP and your IEP:

  • Example #1
    You turn 65 on July 15 and are newly eligible for Medicare. Your IEP begins April 1 (three months before your birthday month) and ends Oct. 31 (three months after your birthday month). You enroll in both Part A and Part B during this period. Your ICEP then also runs from April 1 to Oct. 31. If you then enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan during this period, your Medicare Advantage plan coverage cannot take effect before the effective date of your Original Medicare coverage.

  • Example #2
    You turn 65 on July 15. Your IEP runs from April 1 to Oct. 15. You choose to not enroll in Part B during this time, however, because you are still working and are covered under your employer’s insurance plan. You later retire and enroll in Part B at that time, with your Part B coverage set to take effect on March 1. In this situation, your ICEP would run from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28 (the three months before your Part B coverage is scheduled to take effect).  Your Medicare Advantage plan coverage would not go into effect before March 1.

You may also enroll in a Medicare Part D plan during your ICEP. Medicare Part D plans provide coverage for prescription medications. 

A standalone Part D prescription drug plan may be used in conjunction with Original Medicare. Most Medicare Advantage plans already include Part D prescription drug coverage. These plans are known as Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug Plans (MA-PD). 

How Do You Become Eligible for an ICEP?

To begin an ICEP and enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, you must meet each of the following requirements:

  • You must be enrolled in both Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B.
  • You must permanently reside in the service area of the Medicare Advantage plan you wish to join.  

If you elect not to take Part B coverage during your IEP, you will not be allowed to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan. Once you do finally enroll in Part B, you become eligible for a Medicare Advantage plan. The ICEP provides you with a three-month enrollment window to sign up for a plan. 

You can learn more about Medicare enrollment periods by visiting the official Medicare website.

When Else Can I Enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan?

If you do not enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan during your ICEP, your next opportunity will likely be during the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period (AEP, also known as the fall Medicare Open Enrollment Period). This period runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 each year. 

Some beneficiaries may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP), which may be granted at any point during year to Medicare beneficiaries who experience qualifying life events such as moving or being released from a skilled nursing facility. Learn more about Medicare Special Enrollment Periods.