Enrolling in Medicare is crucial in ensuring your health coverage as you transition into your senior years. Being proactive about enrolling during the appropriate periods can help you have continuous access to the healthcare coverage and services you need. 

You can sign up in time to avoid late enrollment penalties when you understand the enrollment periods windows.

When and How to Enroll in Medicare

If you’re already receiving Social Security benefits (or Railroad Retirement Board benefits) when you turn 65, you will typically be automatically enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B. You should receive your Medicare card in the mail about three months before your 65th birthday. 

Initial Enrollment Period (IEP)

The most common time to enroll is during your IEP, which is your first opportunity to enroll in Medicare. If you are eligible based on age, your IEP starts three months before you turn 65 and lasts for seven months (3 months before your birthday month, your birthday month, and 3 months after).

General Enrollment Period (GEP)

The General Enrollment Period runs from January 1 to March 31 each year if you miss your IEP. However, enrolling during this period may result in delayed coverage and possible late enrollment penalties.

Special Enrollment Period (SEP) 

Certain life events may grant you a SEP outside the standard enrollment periods. Qualifying events include things like:

  • Losing employer coverage
  • Moving to a new service area
  • Marriage or divorce

SEPs offer flexibility for enrollment without penalties.

Annual Enrollment Period (AEP)

The AEP, from October 15 to December 7 each year, allows you to review and change your Medicare Advantage Plan or Part D coverage. Changes made during AEP become effective on January 1 of the following year.

Enrollment for Part A and Part B

If you’re not automatically enrolled in Medicare, you must sign up. You can do this:

  • Online by applying on the Social Security Administration’s website.
  • In person by visiting your local Social Security office and completing the necessary paperwork.
  • By phone when you call the Social Security Administration.

Enrolling in Part C (Medicare Advantage) and Part D (Prescription Drug Coverage)

To enroll in a Part C or a Part D prescription drug plan, you need to have both Medicare Parts A and B. You can do this during the same enrollment periods as in Part A and Part B.

If you’re not yet eligible for Medicare and seek health coverage, you can explore Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) plans on the Marketplace. These plans offer comprehensive coverage and financial assistance based on your income.