Medicare is an immensely helpful benefit for millions of Americans age 65 and older, however, it’s not coverage that you can opt into during any time of the year. Enrollment periods and special situations do apply, and if you are nearing age 65, it’s important to understand what actions you need to take to avoid paying penalties. Some Medicare plans have their own specific time frames for enrollment, so let’s review your options:
Original Medicare Enrollment
If you are already receiving Social Security benefits or Railroad Retirement Board benefits, you may not have to manually enroll in Medicare Part A and/or Part B. Your Initial Enrollment Period, called the IEP, begins three months before your 65th birthday and ends three months after, and is the time in which you would need to enroll in any benefits you desire.
Individuals who are not automatically enrolled in Part A would need to do so during their IEP, however, you may choose to forego Part B coverage during this time. Keep in mind that you might incur a penalty if you change your mind and decide to opt into Part B at a later time.
Life can be busy, and if you were not automatically enrolled in Medicare and also missed your IEP, you can still sign up for benefits during the General Enrollment Period between January 1 and March 31. Late penalties for Part B enrollment are typically assessed if you wait until this time to sign up.
Some people do not opt for Original Medicare during their IEP because they still have health coverage through an employer or their spouse. If that coverage ends and you are interested in receiving Medicare benefits, you will have an eight-month Special Enrollment Period and typically won’t have to pay any fees.
Medicare coverage includes a range of optional supplements, and these plans bring their own enrollment timeframes to the table. Prescription drug plans including Part D should be taken into consideration during one’s IEP. Some find that they are eligible for Medicare retroactively, and in this instance, your Part D enrollment period would extend for three months beyond your receipt of this information.
Original Medicare isn’t the only choice available, and if you are interested in Medicare Advantage, your enrollment period is slightly different. It begins during your IEP for Part B, however, it extends seven months after. Delaying your enrollment in Part B can affect your enrollment eligibility for Medicare Advantage, so take this decision into careful consideration.
Once you have benefits through Medicare, you are not stuck with your plan selections for life. Each year you have the opportunity to make changes during the Annual Election Period or Fall Open Enrollment, which runs between October 15 and December 7. You are allowed to make a wide range of changes during this time.
Finally, if you want to opt out of Medicare Advantage and switch back to Original Medicare, or want to enroll in Part D.