The Medicare General Enrollment Period goes from January 1 to March 31 each year. During this time, you can sign up for Medicare if you failed to sign up during your initial enrollment or special enrollment period. Coverage will begin July 1.
What Coverage Can You Purchase During Medicare General Enrollment?
General Enrollment is the time for people who missed their enrollment window to enroll in Medicare. You can purchase any plan available to you at this time, provided you live within the plan’s service area and have signed up for Medicare Part A and Part B first.
Medicare Part A is hospital insurance, which covers you for inpatient care in a hospital, mental health facility, skilled nursing facility or nursing home, and also covers hospice care and home health care. Medicare Part B is outpatient medical insurance, which covers you for doctor and emergency room visits, and covers ambulance services, clinical research, durable medical equipment, mental health care, and limited outpatient prescription drugs. Together, Medicare Part A and Part B make up Original Medicare, which is what you first sign up for.
Once you have Original Medicare, you can sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan or Medicare Part D prescription drug plan if you choose to. Medicare Advantage plans have the same Part A and Part B coverage as Original Medicare, but can offer additional benefits and have an out-of-pocket limit.
Medicare Supplement plans are difficult to purchase after your Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period, which is a six-month window beginning when you are 65 or older and first sign up for Medicare Part B. Take advantage of this opportunity if you want to enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan.
Late Enrollment Penalties
You may have to pay a late enrollment penalty if you wait to sign up for Medicare.
The Medicare Part B late enrollment penalty adds an extra 10% of the standard Part B premium rate to your monthly premiums. You pay this for as long as you have Medicare Part B coverage.
The Medicare Part D late enrollment penalty adds 1% to your monthly premium for each month that you could have signed up for Part D but did not. As long as you have Part D coverage, you will continue to pay this late enrollment penalty. If you qualify for Extra Help, you will not have to pay this penalty.
Why Utilize the General Enrollment Period?
The longer you wait to sign up for your Medicare benefits, the larger your late enrollment penalties may be. If you will not qualify for a special enrollment period (you would, for example, if you currently have employer group health insurance and know you will lose coverage in time), you need to sign up for Medicare when you have the opportunity in order to limit these fees.
How to Enroll During General Enrollment
To enroll in Medicare, you can schedule an appointment with your local Social Security office, call Medicare directly for assistance, or sign up using the official Medicare website.