Medicare Enrollment Periods
Are you ready for Medicare enrollment? There are different open enrollment periods depending on what type of coverage you want. We’ll run through these sign-up periods.
Soon I will turn age 65. When do I start Medicare enrollment?
The first thing to know about Medicare enrollment is that in some cases, you don’t have to do anything. Medicare enrollment is automatic for many people. If you’re receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board benefits when you qualify for Medicare, you’re usually enrolled in Medicare automatically.
The second thing to know is that generally speaking, no matter what type of Medicare coverage you decide to get, a good time to enroll is usually during the Medicare Initial Enrollment Period, described below.
If you don’t qualify for automatic enrollment, you’ll need to enroll during one of these enrollment periods.
Medicare Initial Enrollment Period
For most people, your Medicare Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) begins 3 months before your 65th birthday, includes your birthday month, and continues 3 months after your birthday month. Your coverage begins no earlier than the month of your birthday. If your birthday occurs in March, for example, your IEP begins December 1 and ends June 30 but your Medicare coverage begins no sooner than March, your birthday month.
Your IEP is somewhat different if you have a disability and qualify for Medicare before age 65.
During your Initial Enrollment Period, you can enroll in Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Part B (medical insurance). However, you’ll have the option to turn down Medicare Part B, which has a monthly premium. If you’re covered through an employer’s or union’s health plan, you might want to defer enrolling in Medicare Part B until you lose your other coverage. Most people receive Medicare Part A with no premium, because they paid into Medicare via taxes while working for at least the minimum 10 years.
Medicare Special Enrollment Period
You might qualify for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) if you deferred Medicare enrollment when you were first eligible, depending on your situation. A common reason you might get this Medicare enrollment period is if you were covered by an employer or union group health plan at the time you turned age 65. Your Special Enrollment Period, if you qualify, may be the 8 months following the month the employer or union group health plan coverage ends, or the employment ends, whichever occurs first.
If your employer-based coverage included creditable prescription drug coverage, then you may want to be aware of this point. To avoid a Medicare Part D late enrollment penalty, you generally have only 63 days after the loss of group health-care coverage if you want to enroll in a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan or a stand-alone Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. Prescription drug coverage is optional.
Medicare General Enrollment Period
If you miss your Medicare Initial Enrollment Period, Medicare gives you another change to enroll in Part A and/or Part B: the General Enrollment Period. The Medicare General Enrollment Period is from January 1 to March 31 each year. Coverage begins July 1 of the same year.
Be aware, though, that if you didn’t enroll in Medicare Part A and/or Part B during your IEP, and you don’t qualify for an SEP, you might have to pay a late enrollment penalty.
Are there different Medicare enrollment periods if I sign up for Medicare Advantage?
If you decide to receive your Medicare Part A and Part B benefits through a Medicare Advantage plan, you can do so during your Initial Coverage Election Period (ICEP). Your ICEP is often the same as your Medicare Initial Enrollment Period, discussed above.
The ICEP begins 3 months before you’re eligible for Part A and Part B. It ends on the later of these dates:
- The last day of the month before you’re eligible for Part A and Part B
- The last day of your Initial Enrollment Period for Part B
If you don’t sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan during your ICEP, you might be able to enroll or make certain coverage changes during the following enrollment periods.
Annual Election Period
The Annual Election Period (AEP) occurs from October 15 to December 7 each year. This Medicare enrollment period is designed to allow people with Medicare to change their Medicare coverage. You can switch from Medicare Part A and Part B to a Medicare Advantage plan, switch from Medicare Advantage to Medicare Part A and Part B, or switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another. You can also enroll in or drop Medicare prescription drug coverage.
Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period
The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (MA OEP) allows anyone enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan on January 1 the opportunity to change plans. If you change your mind about your plan selection, you can change to another Medicare Advantage plan or switch to Medicare Part A and Part B during this open enrollment period. The MA OEP occurs between January 1 and March 31.
Please note that you can’t generally sign up for Medicare Advantage from Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) at this time, but you can switch from one plan to another.
Special Enrollment Periods for Medicare Advantage and stand-alone Medicare Part D prescription drug plans
Finally, if you have a Medicare Advantage plan or a stand-alone Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, a Special Medicare Enrollment Period exists to allow you to change plans if:
- You move out of your plan’s service area
- You move into or out of a nursing home
- Your plan no longer serves your area
- You get Extra Help with your Medicare prescription drugs
If you have other questions about your coverage options or Medicare enrollment periods, feel free to contact one of eHealth’s licensed insurance agents. You can also start looking at Medicare plan options where you live by clicking on the button on this page.