En español | Your initial enrollment period (IEP) for Medicare (when you first become eligible in most cases) lasts for seven months, of which the fourth is the one in which you turn 65. For example, if your birthday is in June, your IEP begins March 1 and ends Sept. 30. If you miss signing up for Medicare during your IEP — or if you deliberately postponed enrollment because you receive health coverage from a current employer (your own or your spouse’s) — you have two options to sign up, depending on your situation:
Special Enrollment Period (SEP)
If you are covered under a group health plan provided by an employer for which you or your spouse actively works, you have the right to delay enrollment in Medicare (Part A and Part B) until the employment or the coverage ends — whichever happens first. The whole time that you have this coverage, and for up to eight months after it ends, counts as a special enrollment period during which you can sign up for Medicare without risking late penalties. While active employment continues, you can specify the date on which you want Medicare coverage to begin, up to three months in advance. Otherwise, your coverage begins on the first day of the month after you enroll.
If you need Medicare prescription drug coverage, you will not be hit with late penalties if you join a Part D drug plan within two months of the employer drug coverage ending.
General Enrollment Period (GEP)
If you miss the deadline for your IEP or SEP (or if you don’t qualify for a SEP), you can enroll in Medicare only during a general enrollment period, which runs from Jan. 1 to March 31 each year, with coverage not beginning until July 1 of the same year.
If you need Medicare prescription drug coverage, you can sign up with a Part D drug plan during April, May or June in order to begin coverage on July 1.
When signing up for Medicare during a GEP, be aware that you may be liable for Part B and Part D late penalties. If so, these will be added to your Part B and Part D premiums for all future years.
Note: You cannot enroll in Medicare Part A or B for the first time during Medicare’s annual open enrollment period, which runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 each year. This period is only for people already in Medicare who want to change their type of coverage for the following year. You can sign up with a Part D drug plan for the first time during open enrollment if you missed other deadlines for signing up.