Medicare Enrollment Periods
At age 65, most people become eligible for Medicare. However, your enrollment opportunity actually begins before that. Below, we examine the three Medicare enrollment periods to help ensure you get enrolled in Medicare with no delays or unexpected penalties.
Medicare Initial Enrollment Period
Your Initial Enrollment Period lasts for seven months and begins three months before your 65th birthday. It then includes the month you turn 65 and continues for an additional three months thereafter.
If you sign up during the Initial Enrollment Period, your benefits will begin the first day of the month that you turn 65. If you birthday is on the first day of the month, your benefits will begin on the first day of the previous month.
Medicare General Enrollment Period
If you did not sign up for Medicare during your Initial Enrollment Period and you are not eligible for a Special Enrollment Period, you may sign up during the General Enrollment Period.
The General Enrollment Period lasts from Jan. 1 to March 31 each year. If you sign up during this time, your Medicare coverage will begin on July 1. Waiting until the General Enrollment Period should not affect your privilege to receive Part A for free as long as you qualify for premium-free Part A.
However, if you do not qualify to receive Part A for free or choose to sign up for Medicare Part B during the General Enrollment Period, you may face a late enrollment penalty. The Part B late enrollment penalty adds 10% to your premium for each full 12-month period you could have signed up for Part B, but didn't.
Medicare Special Enrollment Period
If you did not sign up for Medicare during your Initial Enrollment Period, you may be eligible for a Special Enrollment Period.
- If you are covered by a group health plan because you or a spouse are still employed, you may sign up for Medicare at anytime while you are still covered under the group plan.
- If your coverage under the group plan ends, you will be granted an eight-month Special Enrollment Period that begins either the month after employment ends or the month after the group insurance coverage ends (whichever comes first).
Unlike the General Enrollment Period, the Special Enrollment Period generally does not include late enrollment penalties.
Additional Enrollment Situations
If you are under 65 but qualify for Medicare because of a disability, you will be automatically enrolled in Part A and Part B after 24 months of receiving disability benefits.
If you have ALS and qualify for Medicare, you will automatically be enrolled in Part A and Part B the same month your disability benefits begin.
If you have ESRD and qualify for Medicare, your Medicare benefits will begin on the first day of the fourth month of your dialysis treatment.
The Medigap Open Enrollment Period lasts for six months and begins the first day of the month that you are at least 65 years old and enrolled in Medicare Part B. Medigap plans (also known as Medicare Supplement Insurance) are sold by private insurance companies to help pay for some of your Medicare out-of-pocket costs. These costs may include deductibles, copayments and coinsurance. Speak with a licensed insurance agent at 1-800-995-4219 to find out which Medigap plans are available in your area.
For more information about your Medicare benefits, read through some of our guides below.