It’s not required to enroll in Medicare. However, if you are about to become Medicare eligible and do not already have health insurance coverage, you need to consider the options available to you. If you wait too long to enroll in Medicare, you can face permanent penalties, causing you to pay more out-of-pocket.
Initial Enrollment Period
The Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) is a seven-month window where you can enroll in Medicare. The seven-month period includes the three months before your 65th birthday, your birthday month, and the three months after your 65th birthday. During this period, you can enroll in Medicare Part A, Part B, Part C, or Part D.
If you do not qualify to receive Part A premium-free and miss your IEP, you will have to pay a penalty. The cost of the penalty will be twice the number of years you went without Part A once you became eligible for Medicare.
If you don’t enroll in Part B during this time, you will likely have to pay a late enrollment penalty, which will last as long as you have Medicare coverage. You may also have to wait until the General Enrollment Period before you can enroll in Part B.
If you don’t enroll for Part D during this time, you will also pay a penalty that will last as long as you have coverage.
General Enrollment Period
The General Enrollment Period (GEP) begins on January 1 and lasts through March 31 every year. You can enroll only in Part A and Part B during this period if you missed enrollment during your IEP. However, you will still have late enrollment penalties.
Special Enrollment Period
The Special Enrollment Period (SEP) allows you to enroll in Medicare outside of the regular enrollment periods, but only for certain circumstances. For example, if you are 65 and older and covered by a group health plan, you can delay your enrollment for Part B without having to wait for the GEP or pay the penalty for late enrollment. You’ll be covered by SEP.