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Medicare General Enrollment Period

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If you didn’t sign up for Medicare during your Initial Enrollment Period — three months before and three months after your 65 birthday — or during a Special Enrollment Period you can still sign up during the General Enrollment Period.

Medicare Late-Enrollment Penalty

If you didn’t sign up for Medicare during your Initial Enrollment Period or during a Special Enrollment Period, you can still sign up during the General Enrollment Period (January 1 – March 31 of each year).

However, it’s something you’ll want to avoid for these reasons:

  • Coverage won’t begin until July 1. That leaves you unprotected for several months — and 100% responsible for any medical expenses you may have.
  • You may have to pay a late-enrollment penalty, which can raise your monthly premium for Medicare Part B by 10% for every full 12-month period that you don't have Medicare Part B or equivalent coverage. In most cases, this penalty will be added to your Part B premium for the remainder of your enrollment in Medicare.


If you’re 65 or over and have COBRA coverage on an employer’s policy, you must sign up for Part B during the first eight months you have COBRA to avoid the Part B late-enrollment penalty during this period.

When should I sign up for Medicare in order to avoid penalties?

If you don't qualify for the Special Enrollment Period the best time to apply is during the Initial Enrollment Period.

More about the Initial Enrollment Period


If my spouse is covered by Medicare, will I be covered automatically?

No. If you plan to receive Medicare benefits through a spouse, you must still sign up for Medicare individually. There is no automatic spousal coverage with Medicare.

If you are a spouse, divorced spouse, widow, widower, or a dependent parent, you may be eligible for Medicare benefits when you turn 65, based on your spouse’s work record. Generally, to be eligible your spouse must be receiving or eligible to receive Social Security or railroad retirement benefits, or have worked long enough in a government job where Medicare taxes were paid.

In some cases you may be able to receive spouse's retirement benefits if you are at least 62 years of age and your spouse is already receiving retirement or disability benefits. Please see the Social Security website for more information about spousal retirement benefits. 


What if I fail to enroll for Part D coverage during my Initial Enrollment Period?

Medicare Part D is optional coverage, however, even if you do not need prescription drug coverage when you first become eligible for Medicare, it often makes sense to join a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan at that time. If you do not enroll in Medicare Part D when you first become eligible for Medicare you may pay a penalty if you need to enroll in Part D a later time. The penalty is applied to your Medicare Part D premium after your initial enrollment period has ended and you’ve gone 63 consecutive days without either Medicare Part D coverage or some other form of creditable prescription drug coverage. Creditable prescription drug coverage is alternate drug coverage (often through an employer or union) that covers the same prescription drug costs as standard Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage.


What if I already have employer or group health insurance or COBRA?

You may be eligible to apply for Medicare under special circumstances, such as after your employment or group health insurance ends. These circumstances fall under what Medicare refers to as the Special Enrollment Period.

More about the Special Enrollment Period