Medicare Enrollment Windows and Timing

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Timing matters when you’re signing up for Medicare.

Medicare enrollment windows open when you turn 65 or otherwise become eligible.It’s important to take action. You may have fewer choices and may pay more if you wait.

Your Medicare Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) is your first window for signing up. The exact dates of your IEP depend on your date of birth, or on the date you began receiving disability benefits.

Your IEP lasts a total of seven months. It includes:

  • The 3 months before the month you turn 65, or before the month you get your 25th disability check
  • Your 65th birthday month, or the month you get your 25th disability check
  • The 3 months after your 65th birthday month, or after the month you get your 25th disability check

For example, the IEP for someone born August 5, 1950 is May 1, 2015 through November 30, 2015.

The rules are slightly different for people born on the first of the month. Their IEPs occur a month earlier than others born the same month and year. So the IEP for someone born August 1, 1950 is April 1, 2015 through October 30, 2015.

It’s important to take action during your IEP. You don’t have to sign up for Medicare during this time. But you do need to make some decisions.

  •  

  • Initial
    Enrollment—
    When

  • Initial
    Enrollment
    How

  • Late
    Enrollment

  • Making
    Changes

Part A

Anytime from three months before your 65th birthday to three months after the month of your 65th birthday.

Automatic, if you’re already receiving Social Security benefits. Otherwise, enroll at your Social Security Office.

There are no penalties for signing up late, unless you pay a monthly premium for Part A.

Renews each year automatically.

Part B

Same as Part A.

Automatic, if you’re receiving Social Security benefits when you turn 65 or otherwise become eligible for Medicare. If you’re not receiving Social Security benefits, sign up at your Social Security office. You can also refuse coverage at this office.

If you enroll after the initial enrollment period, premiums will be higher unless you qualify for an exception.

Renews each year automatically.

Part C (Medicare Advantage)

Anytime from three months before your 65th birthday to three months after the month of your 65th birthday.

Enroll through a private insurance company.

If you miss the enrollment window, you must wait to join a plan during Medicare Open Enrollment unless you qualify for an exception. Medicare Open Enrollment is October 15 to December 7 every year.

During Medicare Open Enrollment, you can change your plan, including adding or dropping Medicare Part D drug coverage. This is the only time of year you can do this, unless you qualify for an exception.

Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage)

Anytime from three months before your 65th birthday to three months after the month of your 65th birthday.

Enroll through a private insurance company.

If you miss the enrollment window, you must wait to join a plan during  Medicare Open Enrollment unless you qualify for an exception. Medicare Open Enrollment is October 15 and December 7 every year.

During Medicare Open Enrollment, you can add, drop or change your Part D coverage. This is the only time of year you can do this, unless you qualify for an exception.

Exceptions and special enrollment periods

There are some exceptions to dates and deadlines described above. In some cases you will have the right to change your coverage without waiting until Medicare Open Enrollment.

For example, if you have a Medicare Advantage plan and you move out of your plan’s service area, you can change your coverage without waiting for Medicare Open Enrollment.

If your circumstances change, don't assume you must wait until Medicare Open Enrollment. Call the Medicare Helpline toll-free at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (TTY users, call toll-free: 1-877-486-2048) and ask if your situation qualifies you to make changes outside of the timing rules.

Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period (MADP)

Medicare Advantage (MA) plan enrollees have an annual opportunity to disenroll from MA and return to Original Medicare between January 1 and February 14 of every year. The effective date of a disenrollment request made during the MADP will be the first of the month following receipt of the disenrollment request. For example, a request made in January will be effective February 1, and a request made in February will be effective March 1.

Regardless of whether the MA plan included Part D drug coverage, MA enrollees using the MADP to disenroll from MA from January 1 through February 14 are eligible for a special election period (SEP) to enroll in a Prescription Drug Plan (PDP) during the same time frame. An individual may use this SEP to request enrollment in a PDP after having submitted a disenrollment request from the MA plan during the MADP. Or, they may simply request enrollment in the PDP, resulting in automatic disenrollment from the MA plan. Individuals enrolled in a Private Fee-for-Service (PFFS) plan without drug coverage must request disenrollment from their current plan prior to requesting enrollment in a PDP

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