In most cases, individuals are eligible to receive Medicare when they turn 65 years old. However, some individuals may qualify for Medicare sooner if they have certain disabilities and End Stage Renal Disease.
No matter your situation, knowing when to sign up for Medicare is important, as failing to sign up on time could leave you with late enrollment penalties.
Below, we outline important dates and open enrollment periods to help ensure you are signed up for Medicare when you need to be.
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Depending on your circumstances, you will either be automatically enrolled or need to sign up manually for Original Medicare.
If you are manually signing up for Medicare, there is a 7-month Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) surrounding your birthday month during which you’ll have the opportunity to enroll. It begins three months before your 65th birthday, includes your birthday month, and ends three months following that.
If you’re 65 or older, still working, and covered under a group health plan from your current employer (or your spouse is, and you are both covered under their insurance) — you may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP).
If so, you can sign up for Medicare Part B without having to wait for the GEP or pay a penalty for late enrollment. You can sign up while you are working, or you can wait until your group coverage ends.
If you wait until losing your group coverage, there is an 8-month enrollment window, following your retirement or coverage ending (whichever happens first).
There may be other circumstances that qualify your for special enrollment to sign up for or change your Medicare coverage.
If you didn’t sign up for Part A and/or B during your IEP, and you don’t qualify for special enrollment — you can sign up each year between January 1st and March 31.
However, your coverage won’t start until July 1st, and you may have to pay a higher premium if you wait too long.
For more information on restrictions and qualifications, contact the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
If you decide you want to enroll in Medicare Advantage (Part C) or a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (Part D), you can do so when you first enroll in Original Medicare (Part A and Part B), or during certain times each year.
Medicare Advantage is an alternative to Original Medicare coverage that allows you to receive the same benefits as Original Medicare through a private health insurance plan. Your Medicare Advantage plan may include additional benefits, like drug coverage, dental coverage, vision coverage and more.
Standalone Part D Prescription Drug Plans can be purchased and used alongside Original Medicare to help pay for the costs of your medications.
You can sign up for Medicare Advantage plan or a prescription drug plan during your IEP, SEP or GEP.
There is an annual Open Enrollment Period from October 15 - December 7 in which you can sign up for, or make changes to, your Medicare Advantage (Part C) or Prescription Drug Plan (Part D) coverage.
If you elect to change, your new coverage will begin on January 1 the following year.
There are a lot of Medicare enrollment dates to keep up with.
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Christian Worstell is a licensed insurance agent and a Senior Staff Writer for MedicareAdvantage.com. He is passionate about helping people navigate the complexities of Medicare and understand their coverage options.
His work has been featured in outlets such as Vox, MSN, and The Washington Post, and he is a frequent contributor to health care and finance blogs.
Christian is a graduate of Shippensburg University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He currently lives in Raleigh, NC.
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