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Medicare enrollment periods you need to know

When to review your options

When should I sign up for Medicare or change my current Medicare plan? It’s a common question if you’re nearing age 65 or if you want to change your coverage.

But, exactly when you should sign up for Medicare can get confusing quickly with all the different times you can and can't sign up for coverage. Cut through the confusion with this run-down of all the Medicare enrollment periods you need to know to make sure you're covered.

Initial Enrollment Period

The Initial Enrollment Period is the 7-month enrollment window around your 65th birthday. During this time, you can sign up for Original Medicare, which includes Medicare Part A (hospital costs) and Medicare Part B (medical care).

Your Initial Enrollment Period is a great time to consider additional coverage Opens New Window to help pay for amounts leftover after Medicare pays their portion of your claim. You’ll hear this add-on coverage referred to as Medigap (or Medicare supplement), Medicare Part D or Medicare Advantage.

When it happens:

The Initial Enrollment Period occurs three months before your 65th birthday, your birthday month, and three months after.

Initial Enrollment Period

Who should consider their plan options during this period:

If you’re getting close to age 65, don’t forget about this dedicated time to sign up for Medicare. At this age, the Initial Enrollment Period is the most important to remember, because it could lead to penalties if you don’t take action.

If you’re collecting Social Security benefits for at least four months before your 65th birthday and not working, you’ll automatically be enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B. If you’re not collecting Social Security benefits, you’ll want to visit the Social Security website External Site or give their national customer hotline a call at 800-772-1213 to get signed up. If you have coverage through an employer, you may choose to wait to sign up for Part B. Just remember that you should sign up for Part B within eight months of leaving your job, or you might have to wait until the next General Enrollment Period.

Medicare's General Enrollment Period

The General Enrollment Period is the time of the year when you can enroll in Original Medicare if you didn't enroll during your Initial Enrollment Period.

When it happens:

The General Enrollment Period happens every year from Jan. 1 to March 31. If you sign up during this period, your coverage will be effective on July 1. This means you may see a gap in coverage.

General Enrollment Period

Who should consider their plan options during this period:

If you didn't sign up for Original Medicare during your Initial Enrollment Period but want to, the Medicare's General Enrollment Period is the time to do it.

Keep in mind. If you enroll in Original Medicare during the General Enrollment Period because you missed your Initial Enrollment Period, you may still be subject to late enrollment penalties External Site.

Annual Enrollment Period

The Annual Enrollment Period is the dedicated time each year for you to review your Medicare plan options to make sure you have the plan that's right for you. During this time, you can:

  • Drop your Medicare Advantage plan or Part D prescription drug plan and return to Original Medicare.
  • Switch from your current Medicare Advantage plan to a new Medicare Advantage plan.
  • Switch from your current Part D prescription drug plan to a new Part D plan.
  • Change from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage or a Part D plan.

When it happens:

The Medicare Annual Enrollment Period happens every year from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. Any changes you make will go into effect on Jan. 1.

Annual Enrollment Period

Who should consider their plan options during this period:

If you're simply interested in reviewing your options for Medicare coverage, or you're not satisfied with your current plan, now's the time to review your options.

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period is the time each year when you can choose to change your Medicare Advantage plan, if you have one. Or, you can switch to Original Medicare and add a Part D prescription drug plan.

When it happens:

The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period happens every year Jan. 1 through March 31. Your new coverage will be effective the first day of the month after you make your plan changes.

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

Who should consider their plan options during this period:

If you already have a Medicare Advantage plan and want to consider different coverage, like Original Medicare and a Medicare supplement plan, do so during this time. With a Medicare Advantage Plan, you're not enrolled in Original Medicare, so this enrollment period is not for people who are already signed up for Medicare Parts A and B.

Special Enrollment Period

A Special Enrollment Period allows you to enroll in new coverage outside of the typical enrollment windows, due to a life event.

When it happens:

A Special Enrollment Period can happen at any time of the year. Depending on your type of Special Enrollment Period, you may have 60 days before or after the event to review your options and select new coverage.

Who should consider their plan options during this period:

If you've experienced a special circumstance, like a move to a different state or the loss of other health insurance coverage, like through a previous job, you may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.

Find the right Medicare supplement plan for you

No matter when or how you decide to enroll in Medicare coverage, it's important to understand all the plan options available to you.

Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield has a variety of plans to fit your budget, lifestyle and health care needs. Take some time to compare Wellmark's MedicareBlue SupplementSM plans Opens New Window and find the right fit for you.

Get more answers with our free guide

If you're new to Medicare, and you live in Iowa or South Dakota, you can request a free Medicare Matters guide Opens New Window to learn the basics about Medicare, when you’re eligible to enroll and your medical, dental and vision coverage options.

If you live outside Iowa or South Dakota, go to Bcbs.com External Site or call 888-630-2583 to find a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan near you.

Would you rather hear from others like you?

Check out our Medicare Matters video series. We sat down with people who are getting ready for Medicare. Learn with them as our experts listen to their questions and explain the answers!

This is a solicitation of insurance. Wellmark MedicareBlue Supplement plans are specific to Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Iowa and Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield of South Dakota and can only be purchased by Iowa and South Dakota residents, respectively. MedicareBlue Supplement plans are not connected with or endorsed by the U.S. government or the federal Medicare program. Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Iowa and Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield of South Dakota are independent licensees of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.