When To Enroll In Medicare: Eligibility, Deadlines, And More
Medicare Enrollment Periods
There are five different periods during which you can enroll in or change your Medicare plan:
- Initial Enrollment Period is a seven-month window around your 65th birthday
- Special Enrollment Period allows you to make changes to your Medicare Advantage and/or Part D plan due to special circumstances, such as moving out of your plan's service area
- General Enrollment Period allows you to sign up in case you missed your Initial Enrollment Period
- Annual Enrollment Period is a yearly opportunity to make changes to your Medicare Advantage and/or Part D coverage from October 15 to December 7
- Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period allows you to change your Medicare Advantage plan just once from January 1 to March 31 each year
Do I Automatically Receive Medicare When I Turn 65?
Most people qualify for Original Medicare (Parts A and B) when they turn 65. Typically, you're not automatically enrolled on your 65th birthday. In which case, you will need to apply for Original Medicare.
If you don't enroll during your seven-month Initial Enrollment Period (IEP), you may have to pay a late enrollment penalty that could impact your monthly Part A, Part B, and Part D premiums for the rest of your life. There are exceptions to when you need to enroll: if you're still employed and have credible coverage, if you're eligible for Railroad Retirement Board benefits, if you have a disability, and other exceptions. It is very important to fully understand your eligibility and enrollment options.
How Do I Sign Up For Medicare For The First Time?
There is a seven-month window around your 65th birthday called the Initial Enrollment Period (IEP), when you can apply for Medicare:
- Three months before the month you turn 65
- The month you turn 65
- Three months after the month you turn 65
If you're receiving Social Security benefits at least four months before your 65th birthday, you're automatically enrolled in Parts A and B. Social Security will send you Medicare information and a Medicare card prior to your 65th birthday.
If you're receiving group health insurance through your employer or your spouse's employer, and are still actively working, you may be able to delay Part A and Part B without a late enrollment penalty.
During your IEP, you have an option to pick a Medicare Advantage (Part C) or Prescription Drug Plan (Part D) from a private insurer, once you've applied to Original Medicare.
Does Medicare Require Re-Enrollment Every Year?
If you're enrolled in Original Medicare (Parts A and B) or a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan, your plan will renew automatically.
When Is The Medicare Special Enrollment Period?
The SEP allows you to apply, add, drop, or change your Medicare coverage outside of other enrollment periods, due to certain life circumstances. If you didn't apply to Original Medicare during your IEP because you had not yet retired and still had health insurance through your employer or your spouse's employer, the SEP allows you to sign up for Original Medicare without a penalty.
The SEP also allows you to make Medicare plan changes for a number of reasons. For example, you can adjust insurance if you move out of your plan's coverage area or if you start qualifying for Extra Help.
When Is The Medicare General Enrollment Period?
The General Enrollment Period for Original Medicare is January 1 through March 31 each year. Apply during this time if you missed the IEP (when you were first eligible), but keep in mind you may have to pay a late enrollment penalty.
When Is The Medicare Annual Enrollment Period?
You can also receive Original Medicare benefits through a Medicare Advantage plan, also known as Medicare Part C. To enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, you must go through a private insurer and already have Original Medicare (Parts A and B). Medicare Advantage plans add benefits Original Medicare doesn't offer, such as dental, vision, and hearing insurance.
During the Annual Enrollment Period (also called the Annual Election Period) from October 15 to December 7 of each year, you can add, drop, or change your Medicare Advantage plan and prescription drug plan. You have another opportunity to change your Medicare Advantage plan from January 1 to March 31 during the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period.
What Are Medicare Enrollment Deadlines And Penalties?
The government does require you to have insurance, so if you don't have coverage, try to sign up within that seven-month Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) to avoid a coverage gap fee and late enrollment penalty fees.
If you miss that sign-up window and you weren't automatically enrolled, you can apply during the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period, which is October 15 to December 7 each year.
However, if you missed the IEP because of life circumstances, you might be eligible to apply during a Special Enrollment Period (SEP).
Explore All Your Medicare Plan Options To Find The Right Plan For You.
Other Articles From "A Guide to Enrolling in Medicare"
What Is Medicare?
How To Apply For Medicare
Medicare Advantage Vs Original Medicare
How to Enroll in Medicare Part D
About Medicare Enrollment
What Does Medicare Cover?
Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment
Medicare Advantage Enrollment
Compare Part D Plans
Why Choose Empire?
Empire BlueCross BlueShield is a Medicare Advantage plan with a Medicare contract. Empire BlueCross BlueShield is a SNP plan with a Medicare contract and a contract with the state Medicaid program. Enrollment in Empire BlueCross BlueShield depends on contract renewal.