Signing up for Medicare – When is best?

There are certain times when you can sign up for Medicare. Learn when you’re eligible to enroll and how to switch plans if you need to.

Signing up (enrolling) for Medicare is tricky if you don’t know when you’re eligible. Let’s go over the time periods you need to know.

First chance to enroll (Initial Enrollment Period)

When you’re first eligible for Medicare around age 65, you have a 7-month window to enroll.

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Need coverage the month you turn 65? Sign up in the 3-month window before your birthday.

During this 7-month window, you can enroll in Original Medicare Parts A and B which includes coverage for inpatient hospital, skilled nursing facility, and long-term hospital care, as well as coverage for medical services. Or you can enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan (a plan that provides your Part A and B benefits) and/or Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage).

Related content: Medicare parts explained

Late penalties

If you don’t enroll when you’re first eligible, you may end up paying a late penalty when you sign up later for Medicare Part B and/or D.

Delaying coverage

You can delay your Part B (medical coverage) enrollment without penalty, if you have health insurance through a current job or are a dependent on your spouse’s active plan. Once the last spouse stops working, you have eight months to sign up for Part B.

Not happy with the plan you chose?

If you have a plan from a private insurance company or want a plan in addition to Original Medicare, you can do this during the annual enrollment period. This happens every year from October 15 – December 7.

Changing plans

There are special times when you can sign up for a Medicare plan outside of annual enrollment or your initial enrollment period. This is called a special enrollment period.

These times include when:

  • You move: Whether it’s moving to a new city or new address, or moving into a nursing home – you’ll be able to change or enroll in a new plan
  • You want to switch to a 5-star Medicare plan. These plans are considered “excellent” by Medicare. You can make the switch once to a 5-star plan anytime starting December 8 – November 30
  • You lose your current coverage (unless it’s cancelled for not paying your monthly premiums)
  • Your plan changes its contract with Medicare
  • You are released from jail

There are other special cases. Visit medicare.gov to find out more.