Medicare Enrollment Periods

If you’re new to Medicare, you’ll need to know the Medicare enrollment period.

Many people new to Medicare are unaware that financial penalties await those who miss their initial Medicare enrollment window. The late penalty is permanent and lasts the remainder of your time on Medicare. Therefore, you must know the Medicare enrollment periods.

Below we take closer a look.

Medicare Enrollment Periods

Four separate Medicare enrollment periods need to be differentiated and understood.  

  • Initial enrollment period
  • Open enrollment period
  • Annual enrollment period
  • Special enrollment period

Medicare Initial Enrollment Period

Your initial Medicare enrollment period is the most important date for you to know as you are approaching your Medicare Eligibility. 

The initial enrollment period is a seven-month window that begins three months before your 65 birthday, includes your birthday month, and continues for the following three months. 

During this period, you may sign up for both Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B benefits. These first two parts of Medicare are your Original Medicare benefits, while Medicare Part C and Medicare Part D, provide optional expanded medical benefits. 

Individuals who are currently in the workforce and receiving health benefits from an employer should still enroll during the initial enrollment period. 

Keep in mind that you’ve already paid your premiums for your Original Medicare benefits throughout your working career.  Therefore, individuals fully eligible for Medicare receive these benefits for free. There is no advantage in delaying enrollment in Medicare. 

General Open Enrollment

If you miss your seven-month initial enrollment window, you can still sign up for Medicare during the general enrollment period. However, there is a 10% financial penalty for missing the initial enrollment period.

The general open enrollment period takes place from January 1st through March 31st each year. This period is only for signing up for Original Medicare Part A and Part B. Missing this window will result in not having Medicare coverage for the following year.

If you enroll during the open enrollment period, your coverage will not begin until July of that year.

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Annual Enrollment

The Medicare annual enrollment period occurs every year between October 15th and December 7th. This yearly period allows you to expand and customize your Medicare benefits.
During this period, you may purchase:

These plans renew yearly. As a result, you may add or drop coverage during the next annual enrollment period.

Special Enrollment Period

The special enrollment period provides an enrollment window for specific situations without occurring a financial penalty.

For example:

If you delay signing up during your initial Medicare enrollment period because you receive health benefits from your employer, you will receive a 63 day special enrollment window beginning the day of your retirement. 

Another common situation in which special enrollment occurs is if you move states, and you currently own a Medicare Advantage plan or prescription drug plan. If this happens, you will have a two-month window to enroll in a new plan. 

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