When Do I Need to Enroll in Medicare?

If you are nearing 65, it might be time to enroll in Medicare. Find out more about when to enroll in Medicare to avoid gaps in coverage or financial penalties.
When to Enroll in Medicare

Enrolling in Medicare is an important milestone. You typically enroll in Medicare for the first time when you turn 65, or if you are diagnosed with certain medical conditions. There are different ways to enroll in Medicare, and some key times during which you can enroll. Here is a quick breakdown of how and when you need to enroll in Medicare.

Do I Enroll in Medicare When I Turn 65?

The first time you enroll in Medicare is typically when you turn 65. Remember that Medicare is a health insurance program – it will ultimately take the place of any existing health insurance plan you might have (or work alongside it, like a Tricare VA health plan or Medicaid state health care program).

You are automatically enrolled in Medicare if you are already receiving Social Security benefits when you turn 65. You typically start receiving Social Security benefits after age 62, when you retire or you get close to retiring. If you are already receiving SSI benefits when you turn age 65, you will automatically be enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B. You will still need to enroll in Part D prescription drug coverage, and an optional Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plan, when you turn 65.

If you are not yet receiving Social Security benefits when you turn 65, you will need to sign up for Medicare during your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP).

What is my Medicare Initial Enrollment Period?

Your Medicare Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) is the 7-month window around your 65th birthday during which you can (and should) enroll in Medicare.

Your IEP starts three months before your 65th birthday, and lasts for 3 months after the month of your 65th birthday. The earlier you can enroll in Medicare during your IEP, the better – your coverage will begin sooner, and you will avoid potential penalties and coverage delays.

You should enroll in Medicare during your Initial Enrollment Period when you turn 65. If you are automatically enrolled in Original Medicare Parts A and B, you can choose a Medicare Part D plan for drug coverage during your IEP. You can also choose to change your plan to an independent Medicare Advantage plan (like an HMO or PPO) during this time.

If you are not automatically enrolled during your IEP, you will need to apply for Medicare before your IEP is over. If you have reason to delay your enrollment, such as having other creditable coverage, you might be able to apply at a later time during a Special Enrollment Period (SEP).

What About a Special Enrollment Period?

If you had other coverage and delayed your initial enrollment in Medicare Part B, you might be eligible for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) when your current coverage ends.

A Special Enrollment Period is a time during which you can enroll in Medicare after a qualifying life event, such as losing employer coverage, moving home states or starting care at a skilled nursing facility (SNF). An SEP can last up to eight months after your current coverage ends, but if they overlap, your Initial Enrollment Period will always take priority. For example, if your IEP ends on August 31, and you retire on the same date, meaning you lose existing coverage on that date, you will not be entitled to an SEP after you retire. You must still enroll in Medicare during your IEP if you are going to retire or lose other coverage during that time.

An SEP can help you enroll in Medicare if you retire after you turn 65, or if other factors change your health coverage after your IEP.

How Do I Enroll in Medicare?

You can enroll in Medicare several ways. Start by learning about the types of Medicare and how they work together for coverage. Then you can choose a coverage plan that works best for you, whether it is a combo of Original Medicare Parts A, B and D, or an independent Medicare Advantage plan that can help combine the benefits of the Original Parts of Medicare.

Once you have chosen how you want to enroll, you can apply for Medicare online via the Social Security Administration website. You can also visit a Medicare center near you or visit your local Social Security office.

A local senior health plan advocate can also help you enroll in Medicare. They can offer help, free of cost, for you to explore plan options in your area and find the coverage that works best for you. They can then help you complete your enrollment so that you have coverage on time.

Talk with a local senior health plan advocate today if you are nearing your Initial Enrollment Period and need to enroll in Medicare. Even if you are already 65 and need help with your coverage, they can help make sure you enroll in the right Medicare plan for you.

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