When should I enroll in Medicare?

There are three times you can enroll for Medicare:

  • your Initial Enrollment Period,
  • your Special Enrollment Period, and
  • the General Enrollment Period.

The best time for you to enroll in Medicare depends on several factors, including your age, whether you are still receiving health insurance through an employer and the size of your employer group.

It is important to enroll in your Medicare plans at the right time! If you wait too long, you may have to pay a lifelong penalty on your premiums.

Initial Enrollment Period

Your Initial Enrollment Period is a 7-month window around your 65th birthday. Initial Enrollment starts 3 months before your birth month and ends 3 months after the month you turn age 65.

For example, if you turn 65 in February 2020, your Initial Enrollment Period runs from November 1, 2019 through May 31, 2020.

In general, you should enroll in Medicare during your Initial Enrollment Period if you do not have any other health insurance, or if you are:

  • retired/not employed,
  • self-employed, or
  • receiving health coverage from a company with fewer than 20 employees.

If you enroll in the 3 months before your 65th birthday, your coverage will take effect on the 1st day of your birth month.​

Your Special Enrollment Period

If you will still be receiving health insurance through an employer with at least 20 employees when you turn age 65, you can wait until that coverage ends to enroll in Medicare.

When your eligible employer coverage ends, you will have a limited time to enroll in Medicare without penalty. This limited time period is your Special Enrollment Period.

General Enrollment Period

If you fail to enroll in Medicare during your Initial or Special Enrollment periods, you can enroll during the General Enrollment Period (January 1 through March 31 annually). However, this will result in a lifelong cost penalty.

The longer you wait to enroll in Medicare once your Initial or Special Enrollment Period has passed, the more costly your premiums will become.

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