Key Takeaways

  • Why was Medicare created? This federal health insurance program covers a wide range of services to keep you healthy as you get older.

  • The minimum age for Medicare is 65, but it also covers younger people, with certain disabilities.

  • There are several Medicare enrollment periods throughout the year, including Open Enrollment. Not enrolling on time during your Initial Enrollment Period could lead to a penalty. It’s important to know the rules that apply to each period.

Who receives Medicare? Generally speaking, you are eligible for Medicare coverage when you turn 65 or have met certain other eligibility criteria.

Many people may wonder, is it mandatory to go on Medicare when you turn 65? The answer is no. If you’re 65 or older and have private health insurance through your active employer or your spouse’s active employer, you don’t have to enroll in Medicare until either the employment or the coverage ends. There is a caveat, however. You cannot delay Medicare enrollment if your or your spouse’s employer-sponsored coverage comes from COBRA or retiree benefits.

If you’re ready to enroll in Medicare

Can you sign up for Medicare at any time? There are several times to enroll in Medicare, and each of those times has its own rules around applying and when coverage will begin. Understanding when to enroll is an important part of avoiding coverage gaps and Medicare late enrollment penalties.

Initial Enrollment Period

The Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) is the first time to sign up for Medicare and join Parts A, B, C, and D. It happens:

  • 3 months before your 65th birthday,
  • Your birthday month, and
  • 3 months after your 65th birthday.

When is my 7-Month Initial Enrollment period?

Coverage will start no sooner than the month of your 65th birthday month, but you can enroll three months before your birthday. 

Example: If your birthday is in July, your Initial Enrollment Period begins April 1 and ends October 31.

If you miss your enrollment period, you will have another chance to enroll but waiting could result in late penalties and a period without health coverage. Learn more about penalties for late enrollment.

Special Enrollment Period

There are Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs) that apply when eligible for delayed enrollment in Medicare Parts A, B, C, & D. These SEPs are only available for certain circumstances. Learn more about Medicare Special Enrollment Periods.

When is my Special Enrollment period?

General Enrollment Period

If you miss the Initial Enrollment Period or Special Enrollment Period, there is another chance to enroll.

Sign up for Medicare Parts A & B can also happen between January 1 and March 31 each year. Medicare coverage would begin on July 1 of the same year.  (Coverage gaps and late enrollment penalties can apply.)

It is important to note that if Part A is needed during this time, enrollment in Part B is required as well.

When is the General Enrollment period?

Open Enrollment Period

The Open Enrollment Period – sometimes called the Annual Election Period or Annual Coordinated Enrollment Period – runs each year from October 15 to December 7. During this time:

  • Anyone with Original Medicare (Parts A & B) can switch to a Part C (Medicare Advantage) plan.
  • Anyone with Medicare Part C/Medicare Advantage can switch back to Original Medicare (Parts A & B) and enroll in a Part D plan.
  • Anyone who has Original Medicare (Parts A or B) can join, drop, or switch a Part D prescription drug plan.
  • Anyone with Medicare Part C/Medicare Advantage can switch to a new Part C plan.

Coverage will start on January 1 of the following year.

When is the Open Enrollment period?

Annual Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period provides additional opportunities to change Medicare Advantage plans outside of the Annual Election Period (October 15 – December 7). Learn more about the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period.

When is the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment period?

Medigap Open Enrollment Period

It’s recommended you buy a Medigap policy during the 6-month Medigap Open Enrollment Period, because during this time, any Medigap policy sold in state can be purchased at the lowest available cost  and cyou cannot be denied based on pre-existing conditions. This period automatically starts your 65th birthday month and also enrolled in Medicare Part B. Learn more about Medigap.

Need Help Thinking Through Your Medicare Options?

What documents do you need to apply for Medicare? What is the difference between Medicare Part A and Part B? We understand you may have many questions surrounding Medicare coverage. If you need help sorting through your options, NCOA has a trusted partner that is committed to serving your Medicare selection needs and priorities at no cost to you.

Our process connects you with licensed Medicare enrollment specialists backed by our decades-long commitment to helping older adults thrive. To learn more, connect with an enrollment specialist from Medicare Choice Group today.