When should you join Medicare?
After you have confirmed your eligibility and identified what Medicare plans you want to enroll for, next is knowing when to enroll. Knowing when to join your chosen Medicare plans can help you plan effectively ahead, register on time, and avoid the penalties that come with late registration.
Medicare Enrollment Is Not Open All Year
One of the common mistakes people make is assuming they can enroll for Medicare any time of the year, provided they are eligible. There are usually official registration periods for potential eligible beneficiaries to join their desired Medicare plans. These periods are called Enrollment Periods.
What happens during enrollment periods includes enrollment into plans, switching plans, and dropping plans.
Key Medicare Enrollment Periods
Here are the most important enrollment periods for various Medicare Parts:
Initial Enrollment Period
If you are enrolling for Medicare because you are turning 65, the initial enrollment period is the official time to join. It lasts for seven months – starting from three months before your 65th birthday, through your birthday month, and continues for three months after you have turned 65.
A potential eligible beneficiary can enroll in the following plans during the Initial Enrollment Period:
– Medicare Parts A and B
– Medicare Part D or a stand-alone Medicare prescription drug plan
– Medicare Part C or Medicare Advantage Plan
Not signing up for these Medicare Parts during this period attracts penalties, so you will end up paying higher premiums than usual. Note that enrollment into Medicare Parts A and B is automatic for potential eligible beneficiaries who are already receiving Social Security benefits.
General Enrollment Period
If you failed to register for Medicare Parts A and B during the Initial Enrollment Period, your next chance comes during the General Enrollment Period. This may be due to personal reasons or your ineligibility for the special enrollment period.
The General Enrollment Period starts from January 1 through March 31 every year. If you register during the general enrollment period, your coverage starts July 1 and may attract late enrollment penalties.
NB – The General Enrollment Period is only open for Original Medicare. You cannot enroll for a Medicare Part D coverage or a Medicare Advantage Plan during this period.
Special Enrollment Periods
The Special Enrollment Period is another window for eligible beneficiaries who missed the 7-month Initial Enrollment Period. It lasts for two months and allows beneficiaries to change their coverage due to a special circumstance or qualifying event.
For instance, delaying your Medicare enrollment past age 65 to get creditable coverage via active employment means you can apply for Medicare A and B during the special enrollment period. You can also enroll for or switch between different Medicare Advantage and Part D Medicare Plans during their Special Election Periods (SEP).
During a Special Enrollment Period, I haven’t witnessed many enrollment penalties for being late signing up. The timing for the SEP varies based on the qualifying situation.
Annual Enrollment Period
The Annual Enrollment Period presents a perfect opportunity to make changes to your coverage or enroll in a new Medicare plan. It runs from October 15 through December 7 every year. You can take advantage of the annual enrollment period if:
– You want to drop a Medicare prescription drug plan or join a new one;
– You want to update your existing coverage by joining a new plan from your current insurer or a new insurer;
– You want to move from Medicare Advantage Plan to an Original Medicare and vice versa;
– You want to move from a Medicare Advantage plan without drug coverage to one with drug coverage and vice versa;
NB – All successful changes made during the Annual Enrollment Period will not be effective until January 1, which is when the coverage officially begins.
Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period
The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (MAOEP) is designed for Medicare beneficiaries with an existing Medicare Advantage plan. You can switch between Medicare Advantage plans during this period or drop the plan altogether and enroll in Original Medicare with a Part D plan.
You cannot move from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan during this enrollment period. Likewise, you cannot enroll for a Medicare prescription drug plan if you are not enrolled in Original Medicare. You cannot also move from a stand-alone Medicare prescription drug plan to another.
The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period starts from January 1 through March 31 every year. Whether you switched Medicare Advantage plans or transitioned from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare, your new coverage starts on the first day of the month after the month you made the change.
NB – You can only buy Medicare Advantage plans from private insurers. It is best to go for one with prescription drug coverage.
Medigap Open Enrollment Period
After joining Medicare Part B for the first time, you can enroll in a Medigap plan B without answering health questions if you do so within six months before and six months after your Part B effective date. Missing this period without any qualifying event means you will answer health questions to join a Medigap plan.
Note that the Medigap Open Enrollment Period comes once for most eligible beneficiaries. This enrollment period is beyond serious, so don’t wait and miss it.
What happens when you miss the Enrollment Period?
Not enrolling within the official registration period may delay your coverage. There may also be penalties in some cases, which means paying more than the regular amount.
Let’s help you make the right enrollment decisions
The Medicare enrollment process can be tricky – from knowing what to do and when best to do it. Navigating the process on your own makes it error-prone and costs you extra money in the form of higher premiums.
Save yourself the extra money and stress by getting help with your Medicare choices from professionals. We are always available to discuss your enrollment needs and decisions. We also ensure you do not miss any enrollment deadline, so you don’t have to pay extra,
Reach out today on the phone or send us an email.