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Don't Miss Your Medicare Enrollment Deadline

Christian Worstell

by Christian Worstell | Published March 31, 2021 | Reviewed by John Krahnert

The first (and best) time you can enroll in Medicare is during your Medicare Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). Your IEP is a seven-month period that begins three months before you turn 65, includes your birthday month, and ends three months after your birth month. You should sign up for Medicare Part A and Part B during this period to avoid paying late penalties.

There are exceptions to the rule, mostly for people who are still working and receiving insurance from an employer. Please see the Rules for Medicare Enrollment below for more information on this.

Note: Having COBRA insurance, a retiree plan, VA benefits or ACA marketplace coverage does not mean you can put off signing up for Medicare.

Medicare enrollment form

Rules for Medicare Enrollment and Eligibility

If you are already receiving Social Security benefits when you reach age 65, you will likely be automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Medicare Part B (medical insurance). If you are automatically enrolled, your Medicare card will be mailed to you 3 months before your 65th birthday, and your coverage will begin on the first day of the month you turn 65. 

If you are eligible for Social Security benefits but aren't yet receiving them, you should sign up for Medicare Part A and Part B during your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). You will not be automatically enrolled, and you could face a late enrollment penalty if you do not sign up during your IEP — unless you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP).

If you are still working and are getting coverage from your employer's group health plan (as long as your company has more than 20 employees), you should be eligible for a Special Enrollment Period to sign up for Medicare without penalty.

You will not be eligible for a Special Enrollment Period if you don't sign up in time because you still have COBRA insurance, retiree benefits, veterans benefits or health care purchased from the ACA marketplace. If you are covered by any of these when you turn 65, sign up for Medicare Parts A and B to ensure you do not face a lifetime penalty for putting off your enrollment.

Consequences for Missing Your IEP

Missing your enrollment deadline can mean lifetime penalties or a delay in coverage. If you miss your IEP, you will have to wait until the Medicare general enrollment period, which runs from Jan. 1 to March 31 each year. If you sign up at this time, your coverage will start on July 1 of that year.

In addition to having to wait for coverage, you would have to pay a 10% increase in your Part B premium for every 12-month period that you failed to sign up for Medicare after the end of your IEP. For example, if you wait three years to sign up for Medicare Part B, you will pay 30% more for your Medicare Part B premium as long as you are enrolled.

If you are one of the few people who must buy Part A because you didn't pay enough payroll taxes while working, you could face a penalty for your Part A premium as well.

Appealing After A Missed Deadline

In certain circumstances, Medicare will waive the late penalty if you failed to sign up for a good cause.

Some possible reasons for filing a late appeal include:

  • Your notice to sign up was mailed to the wrong address
  • An illness prevented you from signing up
  • A Medicare representative gave you incorrect information that caused you to miss your deadline

Contact a Medicare representative if you have questions about filing a late enrollment penalty appeal.

Enrolling in Medicare Supplement Insurance

These deadlines only apply to Medicare Part A and Part B. Enrollment dates for other insurance policies such as Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) are different. Keep reading to learn how not to miss your Medigap enrollment deadlines.

Medicare is notoriously confusing, especially for people trying to navigate it in relation to other government health care programs — such as Medicaid, veterans benefits or the Affordable Care Act (aka the ACA or Obamacare). It is no wonder that some people miss their enrollment deadlines each year, often times resulting in penalties that can last as long as you have Medicare.

The best way to avoid penalties is to sign up on time from the start. Are you ready to enroll? Speak with a licensed insurance agent today!

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