Deadlines for Medicare enrollment are pretty strict, so it’s important to mark the dates on your calendar in order to enroll in Medicare without paying penalties. We’ve identified the deadlines for when an eligible participant can enroll in Medicare, special enrollment situations, the consequences for missing deadlines, and the steps to take to enroll so that you don’t have to.
When is the Medicare Initial Enrollment Period?
As soon as you become eligible for Medicare, there is a seven-month Initial Enrollment Period to enroll in Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B. The seven-month Initial Enrollment Period starts three months before your 65th birthday, continues through the month you turn 65, and includes the three months after your birthday month.
The start date of coverage depends on the date you sign up, but if you wait until the month you become 65 to enroll Medicare, Medicare Part B coverage may be delayed and cause a coverage gap. The same goes for waiting to sign up during the 3-months following your 65th birthday month.
When is the Medicare General Enrollment Period?
Once you’ve initially enrolled in the Medicare program upon turning 65, there is a General Enrollment Period, which takes place once a year, between January 1 and March 31. This is the time in which you can make changes or updates to your plan; you can enroll in Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B during this time if you chose not to enroll during the Initial Enrollment Period and are not eligible for a Special Enrollment Period. Coverage elected during the General Enrollment Period begins July 1.
When is the Medicare Special Enrollment Period?
Certain individuals can enter Medicare’s Special Enrollment Period even after their Initial Enrollment Period has ended or the General Enrollment Period has passed.
If you, your spouse, or a family member is still working, and you are covered through a group health plan based on work through your employer or union, you will be included in the Special Enrollment Period. Following the month that your employment situation ends or your group health plan insurance ends, you will have eight months to enroll in Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B. If you have the ability to plan an official retirement date, be sure to factor in your need for health insurance and plan accordingly.
What are some other Medicare enrollment situations?
There are other special circumstances that may affect your Medicare eligibility, including:
Qualifying through a disability
If you’re not a U.S. Citizen or are living outside of the United States when you turn 65
If you live outside of the United States beyond age 65 but have not earned enough work credits to qualify for free Medicare Part A
If you’re living outside of the United States beyond age 65 but you or your spouse is working
If you are incarcerated
If you are in a same-sex marriage or domestic partnership
If any of these situations apply to you, call 1-800-MEDICARE to help determine your eligibility.
When is signing up for Medicare prescription drug coverage available?
To enroll in Medicare prescription drug coverage through a Medicare Advantage plan (also known as Medicare Part C) or Medicare Part D plan, a 65-year-old can enroll during their seven-month Initial Enrollment Period.
For those with a disability under the age of 65, the enrollment period begins 24 months after receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) disability benefits and lasts for a seven-month period like the Initial Enrollment Period. For those 65 and older with a disability, they may enroll during the Initial Enrollment Period.
If you enrolled in Medicare Part B during the General Enrollment Period with or without Medicare Part A, the enrollment period for Medicare Part D is April 1 through June 30.
An open enrollment period for Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D runs from October 15 through December 7, and open enrollment for Medicare Advantage is between January 1 and March 31.
What are the consequences of missing an enrollment deadline?
If you miss the deadline for a Medicare enrollment period, you may have to pay a significant penalty:
Electing not to enroll in Medicare Part A as soon as you are eligible to participate can result in a monthly premium increase of up to 10%, which will have to be paid for twice the number of years you chose not to join Part A.
Electing not to enroll in Medicare Part B as soon as you are eligible to participate carries a late enrollment penalty that will remain for as long as you continue Part B coverage. Monthly premiums can increase up to 10 percent for each 12-month period you were eligible but chose not to participate in Part B, and the ability to enroll may be delayed until the General Enrollment Period with coverage starting July
Electing not to enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C) or Medicare Part D also includes a late enrollment penalty determined by the length of time you went without coverage. The penalty, calculated by multiplying 1 percent of the national base beneficiary premium—which is $35.02 in 2018—times the number of months you chose not to participate in Part D or similar coverage, is added onto your monthly premium.
How do you enroll in Medicare?
To enroll in Medicare, visit Medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE.