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Medicare Special Enrollment Periods: When to Apply for Medicare

Are or your parent getting ready to sign up for Medicare? Understanding Medicare enrollment periods are essential in making sure you enroll successfully and avoid any penalties.


What is a Medicare Enrollment Period?

An enrollment period is a dedicated length of time when you can enroll or make changes to your health insurance plan. Below are all the important enrollment periods you’ll want to mark in your calendar.

Initial Enrollment Period (IEP)

For those just turning 65, your Medicare enrollment window is called the Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). You have a seven-month period of time to enroll:

  • 3 months before the month of your 65th birthday

  • Your birthday month

  • 3 months after the month of your 65th birthday

For example, if your birthday is in July, your IEP begins on April 1st and ends on October 31st.

During this time, you can enroll in Original Medicare parts A and B, a Medicare Advantage plan (part C), and a standalone Medicare prescription drug plan (part D).


If you don’t sign up for Medicare Parts A and B, or Part D during this period, you could face penalties later.


Click here to read more about late-enrollment penalties.

General Enrollment Period

If you miss your Initial Enrollment Period, you can still apply for Medicare Part A and Part B during the General Enrollment Period between January 1st and March 3st.

There are two essential things to remember if you apply for Medicare during the General Enrollment Period:

Annual Open Enrollment Period

Each year, you’re given a period of time between October 15th and December 7th to make changes and adjustments to your Medicare plan.

  • You can switch to a Medicare Advantage plan if you enrolled in Original Medicare

  • If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, you can switch to Original Medicare

  • You can switch to a Medicare Advantage plan with drug coverage or switch to one without drug coverage

  • You can drop a Medicare prescription drug plan

  • You can switch to a new plan with your insurer or change insurers altogether

If you decide to make any changes to your health coverage during this time, your new coverage will begin on January 1st of the next year.

Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period

When choosing Original Medicare, you have the option to supplement your coverage to help with additional medical costs. You are eligible to buy a Medicare Supplement plan during the six-month enrollment period that starts on the first day of your 65th birthday month. But remember that you can only purchase a Medicare Supplement plan if you signed up for Medicare Part B.


Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

From January 1st to March 31st, individuals enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan are able to make a one-time election to move to a different Medicare Advantage plan or switch to Original Medicare. If you change coverage plans during this time, your new coverage will start the first day of the month following the month you made the change.


Special Enrollment Period

These periods are available only for specific circumstances:

  • While you have coverage from an employer

  • The 8 months after your coverage ends for Parts A and B

  • The 63 days after your coverage ends for Parts C and D

For more information on Special Enrollment Periods, click here.

Mark your calendars for the Medicare Enrollment Period that best suits you! If you have any questions, give us a call or send us an email.


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