Enroll in Medicare

When should I enroll in Medicare?

If you are eligible for Medicare, you should be aware of the enrollment periods to avoid late enrollment penalties. Here is a breakdown of the most important periods:

Initial Enrollment Period

When you turn 65, you become eligible for Medicare. If you have already been receiving retirement benefits through Social Security or Railroad Retirement, you will automatically be enrolled in Medicare when you turn 65, and your Medicare card will be mailed to you. If you are not already enrolled, you can sign up during your Initial Enrollment Period, which begins three months before the month of your 65th birthday and extends three months after.

Special Enrollment Period

Special Enrollment Periods are available for people with specific circumstances. Suppose you are still working at 65 and covered by health insurance through your employer (provided they have at least 20 employees). In that case, you can delay enrolling in Part B. Once you are no longer employed or lose the health coverage, you have eight months to enroll in Medicare. Special Enrollment Periods are also available if you experience an abrupt change in coverage from moving out of your plan’s service area or losing your current plan’s coverage.

General Enrollment Period

The General Enrollment Period spans from January 1 to March 31 of each year. If you did not enroll during your Initial Enrollment Period or Special Enrollment Period, you can sign up during the General Enrollment Period. Failing to enroll during your allotted time period can result in late-enrollment penalty fees that are added to your monthly premiums. Part B late enrollment penalties add 10% for every 12-month period you went without signing up. These last for as long as you hold Part B coverage, so it is important to avoid these fees for those on a fixed income.

Open Enrollment Period

The Open Enrollment Period is from October 15 to December 7. It is for individuals who already have Medicare plans to make changes. During this period, you can switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan or the reverse. You can also make changes to your Part D Prescription Drug Plan.

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period begins January 1 and ends March 31. This time is intended for Medicare Advantage plan holders to switch or make changes to their plans. They can switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan or go back to Original Medicare and pick a prescription drug plan. You can only change your plan once during this period.

Medigap Open Enrollment

When you are 65 or older and have Part B, you have six months to enroll in a Medigap plan, during which time your medical history will not be taken into account for the purposes of policy underwriting. Those first six months of having Part B are your Medigap Open Enrollment period.

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