If you delay Medicare coverage when you are first eligible and do not qualify for a Special Enrollment Period, you must enroll during the Medicare General Enrollment Period. You will likely be responsible for a late enrollment penalty when you sign up during this period.

Read below to learn more about this enrollment period, when it occurs, who should use it, and more.

What is the Medicare General Enrollment Period?

The Medicare General Enrollment Period occurs annually from January 1 through March 31. Those eligible for Medicare who delayed coverage can sign up for Medicare Part A or Part B benefits (or both).

Typically, if you enroll in Medicare coverage, it will become active on the first day of the following month. However, for those who sign up during this window, coverage will not be active until July 1. Thus, Medicare will not cover any medical services before this date.

To avoid this lapse in coverage, it is essential to enroll in Original Medicare (Medicare Part A and Part B) benefits as soon as you are eligible if you do not have creditable coverage. Creditable coverage means coverage that is at least as good as Medicare. You should verify whether your current coverage is creditable as you approach Medicare eligibility.

Who Is Eligible for the General Enrollment Period?

To utilize the Medicare the General Enrollment Period, you must be eligible for Original Medicare and have previously delayed enrollment while lacking creditable coverage. During the Medicare General Enrollment Period, you can apply for Medicare Part A, Medicare Part B, or both.

When they first become eligible, many people get Medicare Part A inpatient insurance because the coverage usually does not require a monthly premium. Additionally, if you qualify for premium-free Medicare Part A and receive Social Security benefits, you must enroll to continue Social Security benefits. Thus, initial Medicare Part A enrollment is common.

However, some Medicare-eligible seniors delay outpatient Medicare because of the Medicare Part B premium. If this is the case, beneficiaries will need to enroll during the General Enrollment Period in the absence of a Special Enrollment Period.

Medicare Part D Enrollment During the General Enrollment Period

The Medicare General Enrollment Period does not permit beneficiaries to solely sign up for Medicare Part D. However, if you enroll in Medicare Part A or Medicare Part B during this time, you will receive a coinciding Special Enrollment Period for Medicare Part D.

The Medicare Part D plan you sign up for during the Medicare General Enrollment Period will cover you through the end of the year. Additionally, you can still make changes for the following year during the Annual Enrollment Period in the fall.

Late Enrollment Penalties During the General Enrollment Period

If you delay Original Medicare benefits without creditable coverage, you must pay the penalty. Each Part of Original Medicare, plus Medicare Part D, involves an ongoing penalty for late enrollment, which you must pay in addition to your monthly premium.

The Medicare Part A penalty only last two times the number of years you go without Medicare hospital coverage after you are eligible. However, the Medicare Part B penalty never goes away. Thus, you will be responsible for paying the penalty as long as you have this coverage.

Although Medicare is not mandatory, the late enrollment penalties exist to ensure seniors have adequate healthcare coverage in their most vulnerable years.

Enrolling in a Medicare Supplement or Medicare Advantage Plan During the General Enrollment Period

Although this enrollment period only applies to Original Medicare, you can still enroll in a Medigap or Medicare Advantage plan if you enroll in Medicare Part B coverage during this time. Enrolling in Medicare Part B gives beneficiaries a Special Enrollment Period for Medicare Advantage or guaranteed issue rights for a Medigap plan.

You cannot enroll in both a Medicare Advantage and a Medicare Supplement plan. Thus, knowing which plan type best suits your healthcare needs is essential as they do not cover the same benefits.


  1. Medicare Enrollment Periods, Medicare. Accessed April 2022.
  2. When Does Medicare Coverage Start, Medicare. Accessed April 2022.
  3. Medicare, SSA.gov. Accessed April 2022.

Jagger Esch

Medicare Expert

Jagger Esch is the Medicare expert for MedicareFAQ and the founder, president, and CEO of Elite Insurance Partners and MedicareFAQ.com. Since the inception of his first company in 2012, he has been dedicated to helping those eligible for Medicare by providing them with resources to educate themselves on all their Medicare options. He is featured in many publications as well as writes regularly for other expert columns regarding Medicare.

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