For some, the process of enrolling in Original Medicare can seem daunting or confusing. It’s a big change, but much simpler when you know exactly when and how to navigate the transition.
From understanding when you’re eligible to enroll, to knowing how to go about the enrollment process, being prepared will make the process much simpler. Our step-by-step breakdown of what to expect when it comes to Medicare enrollment will help you get the coverage you need and avoid late enrollment penalties along the way.
When to Enroll in Medicare
You may have heard that your 65th birthday is an important date when it comes to Original Medicare. But when exactly should you enroll? Most people will enroll during their initial enrollment period, which is the 7th-month period around your 65th birthday.
There are windows of time during which you can enroll other than the initial enrollment period. But keep in mind, if you miss your initial enrollment period or work past age 65 and are covered by your employers group health coverage, your enrollment period will change.
Initial Enrollment Period
The 7-month period around your 65th birthday when you first become eligible to enroll in Original Medicare (Parts A and B). This includes the 3 months before your birth month, your birth month, and the three months after your birth month.
General Enrollment Period
The window of time from January 1st to March 31st each year. If you didn’t enroll during your Initial Enrollment Period, you can sign up during this time and your coverage will begin July 1st.
Special Enrollment Period
In certain circumstances, you may be able to enroll during an 8-month Special Enrollment Period outside the Initial and General Enrollment Periods.
Example: If you’re covered by an employer’s group health plan, you’ll be able to enroll during the 8-month period that begins after your employment OR group health plan ends (whichever happens first).
How to Enroll in Medicare
Now that you know when to enroll, you’ll need to know how to enroll in Medicare. Get prepared with this step-by-step look at the most efficient way to do it:
- Gather your original or certified copy of your birth certificate, any W2 forms received in the past two years, and your Social Security card or number.
- Once your Initial Enrollment Period begins, contact Social Security in the way that’s most convenient for you.
- Call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778)
- Go online at socialsecurity.gov
- Visit your local Social Security office
Enrollment Beyond Original Medicare
Once you are enrolled in Original Medicare, you have the option to enroll in additional coverage. From covering prescription drugs to reducing certain out-of-pocket costs and more, you’ll need coverage beyond Original Medicare. Here is an overview of your options and when you’ll need to sign up:
- Medicare Supplement Enrollment: You can enroll for Medicare Supplement for up to 6 months after you’ve enrolled in Medicare Part A and B. Coverage is guaranteed if you sign up during this time period, but not guaranteed if you wait longer.
*What you’ll need beforehand: To be already enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B
- Medicare Advantage Enrollment: You can enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan during the same 7-month period during which you can enroll in Original Medicare – 3 months before your 65th birthday, the month of your birthday, and 3 months after.
*What you’ll need beforehand: To be eligible to Medicare Part A and enrolled in Part B.
- Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage: You can add a Medicare-approved Prescription Drug plan to your coverage during the same 7-month period during which you can enroll in Original Medicare.
*What you’ll need beforehand: To be eligible for Medicare Part A and enrolled in Part B.
What to Avoid When Enrolling: Late Penalties
If you’re getting ready to enroll in Medicare (and maybe additional coverage too), it might seem like there are a lot of dates to keep track of. Take a deep breath and mark your calendar— staying on top of your Medicare Enrollment Period is the key to avoiding late fees.
Enrollment in Medicare and Medicare plans is limited to certain times, which is why it’s important to know both when and how to sign up for coverage. Remember, there are different times for enrolling in Original Medicare versus enrolling in coverage beyond Original Medicare. Knowing these differences will help you get the right coverage at the right time, and help you avoid having to pay late penalties down the road.