More than 58 million people in the United States are enrolled in Medicare. But there is still
a significant amount of confusion about how and when to make Medicare coverage choices. For information about the basics of Medicare and its different parts of coverage, read our Quick Guide to Medicare.
There are 4 separate enrollment periods that are important to getting access to Medicare coverage.
- The initial enrollment period happens once – when you are first eligible for
Medicare. And, generally, it lasts 7 months (the 3 months before your 65th birthday, the month of your 65th birthday, and 3 months after your 65th birthday). If you are eligible for Medicare because you have received SSDI benefits for 24 months, your Medicare will begin in your 25th month of receiving SSDI benefits.
- And, each year, from October 15 to December 7, you can make changes to your Medicare coverage, which will begin on January 1. This is called the open enrollment period.
- If you are over the age of 65, but are still working, you have a special enrollment period of 8 months after your employer-sponsor group health plan or your retirement plan coverage ends.
- And finally, if you do not sign up for Medicare when you are first eligible during your initial enrollment period or your special enrollment period, then you can still enroll in Medicare, but you have to wait until the general enrollment period. The general enrollment period occurs each year from January 1 to March 31. Individuals can sign up for Part A and B during this time frame. Once enrolled in Part A and Part B, between April 1 and June 30, individuals can add a Part D plan or move to a Part C plan. However, even if you sign up for coverage on the first day of the general enrollment period, you still have to wait until July 1, for your coverage to begin.
And, because you didn’t sign up for Medicare when you were first eligible, you will likely have to pay a late enrollment penalty:
- Part A: you must pay a 10% penalty for twice the number of years you were eligible, but didn’t sign up.
- Part B: you must pay a 10% penalty for each full 12-month period you were eligible, but didn’t sign up. You must pay this penalty on your Part B premium for life!
- Part D: you must pay a penalty of 1% of the national base monthly premium, times the number of full months you were eligible, but didn’t sign up. You must pay this penalty on your Part D premium for life!
Part B Penalty Example:
David’s initial enrollment period ended August 31, 2015, but waited to sign up for Part B until the general enrollment period in February 2018. David waited 30 months to sign up, but this only included 2 full 12-month periods. (2 full 12-month periods x 10% = 20% penalty). David will pay a 20% penalty, in addition to his monthly Part B premium, for life!
Waiting to enroll in Medicare coverage can cost you a lot over time, so it is important to understand your options. For more information about Medicare enrollment and penalties, visit www.medicare.gov