What are the enrollment periods for Medicare?

If you are nearing Medicare eligibility or have missed an enrollment period, you need to be aware of all your enrollment options to avoid late enrollment penalties.

Initial Enrollment Period

You should first sign up for Medicare when you become eligible at age 65. Your Initial Enrollment Period extends three months before and three months after the month you turn 65. To mark the beginning of this time frame, Medicare mails you your red, white, and blue Medicare card three months before your birthday.

During this time, you can sign up for Original Medicare, Part A and Part B. Part A covers hospital insurance, and Part B covers medical insurance. Most people qualify to receive Part A with no monthly premium. 

General/Open Enrollment Period

Suppose you did not enroll during your initial enrollment period. In that case, you need to sign up for Medicare between January 1 and March 31. This time is also available for people looking to switch between Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans or Medicare Supplement plans.

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment

Open Enrollment for Medicare Advantage plans begins on October 15 and lasts through December 7. You can add, drop, or switch a Part D prescription drug coverage plan. You can change from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan or switch back. You can also switch from an Advantage Plan with prescription drug coverage to one without, or the opposite. 

Special Enrollment Periods

For those who are still covered by their employee health coverage (or their spouse’s) at age 65, there are Special Enrollment periods that protect you from paying late enrollment fees when you later sign up for Medicare. This period extends eight months from the end of your employment or the end of your employee health coverage, whichever comes first.

The late enrollment fee for Part B is 10% added to your monthly premium for every twelve-month period you go without enrolling in Part B. This penalty lasts for as long as you hold Part B coverage. Hence, it is vital that you not delay enrollment unless you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.

For all of your Medicare questions, go to Medicare on Video.

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