Medicare Enrollment

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The 2019 annual enrollment period (AEP) for Medicare started on October 15, 2018 and runs through December 7, 2018. Whether you’re new to the program or want to switch to a different kind of coverage, here are important dates and deadlines to keep in mind:

  • October 15th: Medicare open enrollment starts. This is your chance to switch from original Medicare to Medicare Advantage (Part C); drop Part C coverage and enroll in original Medicare; switch from one Advantage plan to another; or drop, switch or sign up for a Medicare Part D drug plan.
  • December 7th: The Annual Enrollment Period for Medicare ends for coverage in 2019.
  • January 1st: Any changes that you made during the 2019 annual enrollment period for Medicare will take effect on the first of the year. If you signed up for a new plan, it’ll start on the first as well.
  • January 1st – February 14th: This is the annual Medicare disenrollment period, specifically for Advantage plans. During this period, you can do two things: drop Advantage to enroll in original Medicare, and sign up for a Part D drug plan if you enroll in original Medicare.

Initial Enrollment Period (IEP)

The annual open enrollment period applies to existing Medicare enrollees. If you haven’t signed up for any portion of Medicare yet, and you’ll be eligible based on age soon, then you’ll sign up during what’s called the “initial enrollment period” (IEP) or initial eligibility window. It’s a 7-month enrollment period that starts three months before the month you turn 65 and runs for three months after your birthday month.
You can sign up for original Medicare or Medicare Advantage during this time frame. In fact, it’s the best time to sign up because you may have to pay a penalty if you wait to enroll outside this period. If you miss your IEP, you can enroll in Medicare Parts A and/or B (original Medicare) during the general enrollment period, which runs from January 1 through March 31 each year.

What If I Miss Open Enrollment?

Unless you qualify for a special enrollment period, you need to sign up for original Medicare or Medicare Advantage during your initial eligibility window. You can also use open enrollment. But keep in mind that there are fees for signing up late (outside of your initial window), and they differ based on each portion of Medicare as follows:

  • Part A: The penalty for late enrollment into Part A is 10 percent, if you’re one of the few Medicare beneficiaries who pays a premium for hospital coverage. Most people don’t pay a premium, but if you do, your rate goes up 10 percent and lasts for twice the number of years that you could have had Part A but chose not to.
  • Part B: For Part B, the late enrollment penalty is 10 percent on top of your monthly premium for each full 12-month period that you could have had Part B but chose not to. The penalty lasts for as long as you have Part B coverage.
  • Part D: Medicare calculates Part D late enrollment penalty differently from Parts A and B. For Medicare Part D, you’ll pay 1 percent of the “national base beneficiary premium” times the number of full months that you didn’t have Part D or creditable drug coverage.
    • In 2019, the national base beneficiary premium is about $32.50 a month.
    • If you sign up late for Part D, then you’ll pay 1 percent times the number of months you didn’t have coverage, on top of whatever premium your plan charges.
    • The fee lasts for as long as you have Part D coverage.

You may be able to enroll in Medicare outside of your initial window without worrying about a penalty for late enrollment. Special enrollment periods exist for different cases, such as losing group coverage from work or being disabled. Check with Medicare to make sure.