Your Medicare enrollment depends on your age, health condition, work status, and the time of year.
You are eligible for Medicare when you turn 65. The initial enrollment period (IEP) for Medicare, then, can begin 3 months prior to, the month of, and 3 months after your 65th birthday.
During your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP), you may apply and enroll in:
Original Medicare (Parts A and B)
Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (Part D)
Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C)
If you are collecting Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits before your IEP starts, you will automatically be enrolled in Original Medicare. You are also automatically enrolled if you have received at least 2 years of disability benefits, or if you suffer from Lou Gehrig’s disease or end-stage renal disease (ESRD).
If you do not meet any of these requirements, it will be up to you to apply for coverage during your IEP.
Applying for coverage early in your IEP will allow your coverage to start as soon as necessary. If you wait till the end of this 7 month period, you may experience a gap in coverage.
Annual Open Enrollment
Also referred to as Open Enrollment and General Enrollment
Annual open enrollment for Original Medicare occurs from January 1–March 31 each year. This means that, during this time, you may apply for Medicare Part A and Part B if you missed your initial enrollment period (IEP) or are not eligible for a special enrollment period (SEP).
Annual open enrollment, sometimes referred to as general enrollment, also has a different span of time available for those who want to change or add coverage to their Medicare insurance. Between October 15 and December 7, Medicare beneficiaries:
Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan
Switch from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare
Switch from an Advantage plan without Prescription Drug Coverage to One with It
Switch from a Plan with Prescription Drug coverage to one without
Join or Drop a Part D Prescription Drug Plan
Switch to a New Insurer
Special Enrollment Period
Special enrollment periods are available to those under specific circumstances to apply outside of the usual initial or general enrollment periods.
Special enrollment periods (SEPs) are geared towards working individuals. You may apply for Medicare under an SEP if:
You or your spouse are currently working.
You’re covered by a group health plan through the employer or union based on that work.
As long as you are 65 or older and meet the SEP requirements, you may enroll in Medicare at any point without facing any permanent late fees. You also have an 8-month SEP to sign up for Original Medicare:
The month after your employment ends
The month after your work health plan ends
Also, if you also want to apply for Medicare Advantage and Part D, you have 63 days after your employer coverage ends to do so.