Summary: You can avoid late enrollment penalties and gaps in health insurance coverage by applying for Medicare when you become eligible. Knowing when to sign up for Medicare can help ensure you get the coverage you need, when you need it without paying a penalty. In this article, we’ll explain when you should apply for each part of Medicare. Estimated Read Time: 5 min
Why Signing Up for Medicare On Time is Important
Understanding when you can sign up for Medicare is vital for ensuring you don’t have gaps in your medical coverage. You can only sign up for coverage at specific times of the year, known as enrollment periods. Missing Medicare enrollment periods can result in you having to wait months until you can apply for coverage.
When enrolling in coverage late, you can get stuck paying late enrollment penalties on top of your Medicare monthly premiums. These penalties can significantly impact your monthly out-of-pocket expenses for Medicare coverage. This is why understanding when you can sign up for the different parts of Medicare is so important. Below, we’ll cover the time frames when you can apply for each part of Medicare.
When Can I Sign Up For Original Medicare?
Once you become eligible for Medicare, you can sign up for Medicare Part A and Part B (Original Medicare). For most, this occurs when you are turning 65 and enter your Initial Enrollment Period.
As your first chance to enroll, your Initial Enrollment Period starts three months before the month you turn 65.
If you receive disability benefits, your Initial Enrollment Period will begin three months before receiving your 24th Social Security disability check. This period lasts seven months, starting three months before your qualifying event and ending three months after.
If your birthday is on the first of the month (for example, June 1st), your seven-month Initial Enrollment Period starts earlier. It will begin four months before you turn 65 and end two months after your birthday month.
During this time, you can sign up for Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B. Since most people qualify for a $0 Medicare Part A premium, enrolling in Part A as soon as you are eligible makes sense. You may choose not to sign up for Medicare Part B and delay your coverage. This is common for individuals who are still employed and receiving group coverage through their work.
If you want to delay your Medicare Part B coverage, you’ll want to ensure your current coverage is considered creditable coverage. For coverage to be considered creditable by Medicare, it must provide benefits equal to or greater than what Medicare provides. If you’re still employed, and your employer’s group coverage covers more than 20 people, your work health plan is creditable coverage.
When you delay Medicare Part B and have creditable coverage, you will receive a Special Enrollment Period in which you can sign up for Part B later without a penalty.
If you do not sign up for Original Medicare during your Initial Enrollment Period, you can sign up during the General Enrollment Period. This enrollment period happens each year between January 1 and March 31. If you delayed your Medicare Part B coverage without creditable coverage and enroll during the General Enrollment Period, you may be subject to a late enrollment penalty.
Though less common, if you do not qualify for the $0 premium Medicare Part A and do not enroll during your Initial Enrollment Period, you may have to pay a penalty if you buy into Part A later.
When Can I Sign Up For a Medicare Advantage Plan?
You can only sign up for a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C) during certain times throughout the year. Your first opportunity to apply for a Medicare Advantage Plan is during your Initial Coverage Election Period (ICEP), which happens during your Medicare Initial Enrollment Period.
During this period, you can enroll in a Medicare Part C plan available in your area. Before enrolling in Medicare Part C, you must enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B. If you choose to delay your Medicare Part B coverage because you have creditable coverage, you will receive an Initial Coverage Election Period during the eight-month Special Election Period after you lose your creditable coverage. During this time, you must enroll in Medicare Part B before applying for a Medicare Advantage Plan.
You can also apply for a Medicare Advantage plan during the Annual Enrollment Period between October 15th and December 7th. When you sign up for a plan during this time, your coverage will go into effect on January 1st.
When Should I Sign Up For Medicare Part D?
If you want to enroll in a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, you should sign up for a plan as soon as you’re eligible. You become eligible for Medicare Part D once you enroll in Medicare Part A and/or Medicare Part B. You can sign up for a Medicare drug plan during your Initial Enrollment Period after you enroll in Part A and/or Part B coverage.
Unless you are going to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan or have other creditable drug coverage, you’ll want to apply for a Medicare Part D plan when you first get Medicare. Otherwise, you may pay a late enrollment penalty that is added to your drug plan premium each month.
Outside of your Initial Enrollment Period, you can also sign up for Medicare Part D during the Annual Enrollment Period. Some reasons you may want to apply for a Medicare drug plan during this time include:
- You are dropping your Medicare Advantage Plan and want to pair a prescription drug plan with Original Medicare
- You delayed Medicare Part D coverage and did not have creditable coverage
- You want to drop your current drug plan and apply for another
Depending on your circumstances, you may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period for Medicare Part D. These enrollment periods allow you to sign up for a Medicare Part D plan outside of regular enrollment periods.
A common qualifying event for receiving a Special Enrollment Period is losing your group coverage through your employer. When you lose your health plan through your employer, you will receive a Special Enrollment Period. During this time, you can enroll in a Medicare drug plan without facing a penalty.
Get Help Determining When You Should Apply for Medicare
Knowing when to sign up for Medicare can help you avoid late enrollment penalties and lapses in healthcare coverage. If you have questions about when you should apply for Medicare, contact our team of licensed insurance agents. Our team can help answer your questions regarding the application process for Medicare.
Learn More About Medicare Enrollment Periods
Want to learn about Medicare enrollment periods and how they may affect you? Check out the links below.
This enrollment window begins 3 months before you turn 65, includes your birthday month, and ends 3 months after.
This period begins on October 15th and will run through December 7th every year.
You are eligible for a SEP after a qualifying event (such as losing coverage or relocating).
When Can I Sign Up for Medicare, Medicare. Accessed August 2023
Medicare & You 2023, Medicare. Accessed August 2023
When Does Medicare Coverage Start, Medicare. Accessed August 2023
When To Sign Up for Medicare, Social Security. Accessed August 2023