Just to keep you on your toes, there are a handful of different enrollment periods for Medicare depending on where you are in the process. So let’s start at the beginning. You’re turning 65, happy birthday!

Getting Started with Medicare
If you’re already receiving social security benefits or railroad benefits, you’ll automatically get Part A (hospitalization) and Part B (doctors’ services, preventive care, outpatient care, including lab work, X-rays, and medical supplies) starting the first day of the month you turn 65. If your birthday happens to fall on the first day of the month, your coverage will start the first day of the prior month.

If you’re not already receiving social security or railroad benefits, you become eligible for Medicare when you turn 65, you just have to apply. There’s a seven-month window that begins three months prior to your 65th birthday.

If you miss this seven-month window, you can sign up between January 1 through March 31 each year. Your coverage will begin July 1. You may have to pay a higher premium for late enrollment, so if you know you’re going to want Medicare, don’t delay.

With us so far? Okay, good.

Medicare Advantage and Making Changes to Your Plan
Each year, there is also an annual election period that allows you to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan (also known as Medicare Part C) or change your current Medicare Advantage plan. This window is from October 15 to December 7. You can make changes to your plan whether you have Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage.

You can also enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan during this time, can help pay some of the health care costs that Original Medicare doesn’t cover, like copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles.

If you have enrolled in Medicare Advantage, there is a disenrollment period from January 1 to February 14 each year, should you decide you’d like to return to Original Medicare and stop paying for Medicare Advantage.

Okay, that was a lot. Here are the dates you need to know for Medicare enrollment:

  • January 1 – March 31: If you miss the 7-month window to enroll in Medicare when turning 65, this is when you would enroll in Medicare Parts A and B.
  • January 1 – February 14: You can drop Medicare Advantage during this time and return to Original Medicare.
  • October 15 – December 7: Upgrade Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage, giving yourself more comprehensive coverage.
  • {3 months} Your birthday {3 months}: You have a 7-month window to enroll in Medicare when turning 65 which starts three months prior to your birthday.