Natural Disasters and Medicare Special Election Periods (SEP)

natural disasters and medicare

You may have noticed there are quite a few Medicare rules. Everything from when you can enroll to how you enroll and who can enroll is tightly regulated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

You probably usually enroll in a Medicare plan during one of the regularly-scheduled enrollment periods, like the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) or Open Enrollment Period (OEP). But what happens when, despite your best efforts, life gets in the way, and you’re not able to get a plan on time? Here’s what you need to know about emergencies, natural disasters and Medicare.

Disaster SEP Medicare

In addition to OEP and AEP, there’s a type of enrollment period that specifically covers unforeseen circumstances. Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs) are granted for out-of-the-ordinary, life-changing circumstances. To learn more about exactly how SEPs work we have an in-depth explanation here. Today we’re focusing on SEPs that may be available if you live in an area recently struck by a FEMA-designated emergency.

What is a Special Enrollment Period?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) decides when a specific geographic area is eligible for funds and assistance because of a disaster. If there was a Medicare enrollment period during the time of that disaster, a SEP will most likely be put in place to allow affected Medicare beneficiaries to make changes to their plans. You can take advantage of these SEPs if you (or a caregiver charged with making your healthcare decisions) were living in an affected area during the emergency event dates and if, as a result, you weren’t able to enroll in or switch your Medicare plan.

Do keep in mind, though, that SEPs usually close two months after the end date of the disaster!

Natural disasters and Medicare SEPs right now

The following is a breakdown of just some of the current natural disaster SEPs. You can search the full list of SEPs by state, date, declaration and incident type here.

Alabama Hurricane Zeta
Event Dates: October 26-29, 2020
Declaration Date: January 12, 2021
Counties: Clarke, Dallas, Marengo, Mobile, Perry, Washington and Wilcox
Deadline: February 8, 2021

Louisiana Hurricane Zeta
Event Dates: October 26-29, 2020
Declaration Date: January 12, 2021
Parishes: Jefferson, Lafourche, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard and Terrebonne
Deadline: Not listed

Mississippi Hurricane Zeta
Event Dates: October 28-29, 2020
Declaration Date: December 31, 2020
Counties: George, Greene, Hancock, Harrison, Jackson and Stone
Deadline: March 1, 2021

Puerto Rico Severe Storm And Flooding
Event Date: September 13, 2020
Declaration Date: November 5, 2020
Counties: Arecibo
Deadline: March 5, 2021

Louisiana Hurricane Delta
Date: October 6-10, 2020
Declared: October 16, 2020
Counties: Acadia, Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Iberia, Jefferson, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, Rapides, St. Landry, St. Martin and Vermilion
Deadline: Not listed

SEP for COVID-19

Although we’ve been feeling the effects of the pandemic since March 2020, a SEP was not put in place until just recently. But at the end of January 2021, information on the COVID-19 SEP was released. The SEP will be available to those in the 36 states served by Marketplaces that use the enrollment platform. You can find more information on this upcoming SEP here.

Of course, if your state has its own Marketplace, keep an eye out for announcements from your state government. They will announce if, and when, your state will offer a COVID-19 SEP.

But if you still aren’t sure if you qualify for one of the current SEPs, consult with an insurance professional at My Senior Health Plan today. They can help you determine whether or not you’re eligible for a SEP and, if so, how to make the most of it.

Pete Blasi