Four people walking outside

Different Medicare Enrollment Periods

It can be a little overwhelming to understand all the different parts if you’re approaching Medicare eligibility, especially the various enrollment periods. This article will cover everything you need to know about each Medicare Enrollment Period and what they mean for your coverage. 

HealthPlans of NC

Health Plans of NC, Kelly Quinn

How many enrollment periods are there for Medicare?

Understanding what the different Medicare Enrollment Periods mean for your coverage can be a challenge, as there are a lot of details to take in. There are five main periods to be aware of, which include:

  • Medicare Initial Enrollment Period

  • Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period

  • Medicare Special Enrollment Period

  • Medicare General Enrollment Period

  • Medicare Annual Enrollment Period

Our agents at Health Plans of NC specialize in helping North Carolina residents. We can explain all the different enrollment periods you need to be aware of to make sure you end up with the right coverage at the right time. 

Your Medicare Initial Enrollment Period

One of the most important dates for you to understand when you’re approaching 65 (which is when you become eligible for Medicare) is your Initial Enrollment Period.

This period spans ‌seven months. It begins three months before you turn 65, covers the entire month of your birthday, and extends three months after your birth month. So if you turn 65 on April 20, you’ll be eligible to enroll in Medicare from January 1 to July 30. The only exception is if your birthday is on the first of the month, which means your enrollment period for Medicare begins an extra month early. 

Throughout your Initial Enrollment Period, you can enroll in all four parts of Medicare. This includes both Part A and Part B (known as Traditional or Original Medicare), Part C Medicare (otherwise known as Medicare Advantage), and Part D (prescription drug coverage). In addition, enrolling in your Initial Enrollment Period ensures you avoid having to pay any penalties for late enrollment

What happens if you miss your Initial Enrollment Period?

There can be late penalties if you miss enrolling during your Initial Enrollment Period. Unfortunately, missing the enrollment period is quite common, as many people don’t understand how the enrollment period works or what the impacts are if you miss the date. 

If you’re still working and have group insurance coverage through your employer or union, then you can delay your enrollment in both Medicare Part A and Part B. Then, when you stop working, you can register for both these parts of Medicare during what’s known as a Special Enrollment Period (SEP). This period lasts for eight months, starting the month you (or your spouse) retire or the month that your employer coverage finishes, whichever happens first.

The below list outlines some of the potential impacts of missing your Initial Enrollment Period. This list typically only applies if you don’t have employer-sponsored health insurance: 

  • By not enrolling in Part B on time, you’ll likely have to pay a late enrollment penalty as long as you have coverage with Medicare. Over the long term, this can add substantial costs. The fee is equivalent to 10% for every 12 months that you didn’t have Part B coverage (but could have enrolled). Even if you end up selecting a Medicare Advantage plan, you’ll still be subject to paying this fee.

  • Failing to sign up for Part B coverage can mean you can go without coverage for a long time. You’ll need to wait until the next General Enrollment Period, with your coverage not starting until July 1 of the year you enroll.

  • Missing your Initial Enrollment Period can also affect your Part D coverage. You’ll face a late penalty fee on top of your Part D premium for your coverage period. The fee is 1% of the national base beneficiary premium for each consecutive month you did not have Part D coverage.

Your Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period

If you’re already enrolled in Original Medicare (Parts A and B) and want additional coverage, you can sign up for a Medigap plan. These plans are a great option if you’re looking for extra coverage. You can enroll in different plans that offer a range of benefits throughout your Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period. 

Your Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period lasts for six months and begins when you first enroll in Medicare Part B. Taking advantage of the enrollment period is essential because you gain several benefits, including: 

  • Regardless of your current health status, you won’t be rejected for a Medigap plan in your area. 

  • Your insurer cannot charge you higher premiums, even if you have pre-existing conditions. 

  • Your coverage won’t be delayed if you have pre-existing conditions. 

It’s important to realize that this enrollment period is a one-off. If you miss it, you won’t be able to take advantage of these benefits again. You may have to fill out lengthy health questionnaires and could be denied coverage because of pre-existing health conditions. You’re also able to select any Medigap plan available in your area. Because it only happens once, contact one of our Charlotte Medicare agents to help ensure you don’t miss out on this opportunity!

How Medicare Special Enrollment Periods work

Unique life events usually trigger a Special Enrollment Period (SEP). It’s a two-month period where you can adjust to your existing coverage because of changes in your circumstances. These changes may include moving to a different state that is outside of our current plan’s service area or losing coverage through an employer. During your SEP, you can switch to a new Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D plan and return to your Original Medicare without paying any fees or penalties.

There are several different life events that trigger your eligibility for a SEP, so get in touch with a North Carolina Medicare agent today to find out more.

What is the Medicare General Enrollment Period?

If you missed your Initial Enrollment Period and you don’t qualify for a Special Enrollment Period, it’s possible to register for Medicare Part B during what’s known as the General Enrollment Period (GEP). This period runs from January 1 to March 31 each year. This period only applies to Original Medicare (Parts A and B). It doesn’t include Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D plans. You will also still be liable to pay any late enrollment penalties and you have to wait until July 1 for your coverage to begin. 

What is an Annual Enrollment Period?

During the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP), you can enroll or make changes to your next year’s coverage.  This period occurs each year between October 15 and December 7. During this period, you can change from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan, switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another, join a Medicare Part D drug plan or switch drug plans, or go back to Original Medicare. Your plan will begin January 1st.

Explore your options with a Medicare Agent

Understanding all the details and dates for Medicare enrollment period 2021, Medicare enrollment period 2022, and the different types of enrollment periods for Medicare can be a lot of information to take in. If you need any assistance, give one of our local Medicare agents a call to chat about your options. We can help ensure you don’t miss your Initial Enrollment Period and help you find the best coverage for your health needs. If you live in North Carolina, get in touch with one of our local and experienced Medicare agents NC today or compare plans online.

Ready to get started?

See plans and pricing today.