If you’re ready to enroll in Original Medicare or make changes to your coverage, there are certain times of year that you can join or adjust your plans.
There are three primary Medicare enrollment periods for Original Medicare and one annual enrollment period that allows you to make changes to your coverage.
Initial Enrollment Period
Enrollment: 3 Months before you turn 65 until 3 months after you turn 65
Most people will enroll in Medicare Part A (hospital coverage) and Part B (medical insurance) during their initial enrollment period. This period starts three months before you turn 65 and extends until three months after your 65th birthday.
You can sign up for Medicare online, or you can contact Social Security for information on how to enroll.
The best time to enroll is during the initial enrollment period because you’ll avoid the Part B enrollment penalty. That penalty is added to your monthly Part B premium, and it lasts a lifetime.
The longer you wait to enroll, the greater the penalty. If you want to enroll in Part B, don’t miss your initial enrollment period.
Special Enrollment Period
If you miss the initial enrollment period, you may be able to sign up for Medicare Part A and/or Part B through a Special Enrollment Period, or SEP.
A SEP is only available for special circumstances, such as:
- You lost your existing coverage. Maybe you lost your coverage from your employer, or you’re no longer eligible for Medicaid.
- You move. Maybe you moved back to the U.S. after living outside of the country, or you relocated to a new address that is outside of your plan’s service area.
- You have the chance to get other coverage through your employer, union or some other plan.
- Your plan’s contract with Medicare changes.
- You’re eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare.
- You’re enrolled in a Special Needs Plan, but you no longer have a condition that qualifies as a special need.
- Other special situations.
The length of a special enrollment period and the date your coverage starts will depend on the circumstances that triggered the SEP. You can view a chart of special enrollment period lengths and coverage start times here.
General Enrollment Period
If you miss the initial enrollment and do not qualify for a SEP, you can enroll during the General Enrollment Period, which runs from the start of January through the end of March.
Annual Election Period
October 15-December 7
The Annual Election Period is the ideal time to make changes to your Medicare coverage. Once you’ve enrolled in Original Medicare, you will have the option of also enrolling in Medicare Advantage and drug coverage programs. The Annual Election Period (also called Fall Open Enrollment) gives you an opportunity to enroll in these programs.
During Fall Open Enrollment, you can:
- Switch your Medicare drug plans
- Drop your current Medicare drug plan
- Enroll in the prescription drug plan for the first time
- Drop out of Medicare Advantage and return to Original Medicare
If you’re planning to enroll in Medicare or change your coverage, it’s important to know when annual enrollment periods start and end. You can find more information on when to enroll on the Medicare website, or by contacting the Social Security Administration.