Eligibility and timing

Depending on your circumstances, there are different time periods that you can enroll in Medicare. Learn about them below.

Initial enrollment period

You can enroll in Medicare during your initial enrollment period, which is three months before your 65th birthday, your birthday month and three months after. If you are under age 65, you may be able to enroll if you have a qualifying event. It’s important that you know that there may be penalties if you do not enroll. If you decide to delay enrollment, you may have to pay a lifetime late enrollment penalty.

Special enrollment period

If you have a qualifying event, you may qualify for special enrollment. You can use special enrollment to enroll in Medicare or make changes to your existing Medicare coverage. Qualifying events can include:

  • Change of address to a different service area
  • Losing current insurance or drug coverage
  • Anytime you have a chance to get coverage from an employer, union or program
  • If Medicare changes its contract with your plan, making coverage unavailable

There are other qualifying events. To learn more, visit medicare.gov

Annual enrollment periods

If you are already enrolled in Original Medicare, Medicare Advantage or a stand-alone prescription drug plan; you can make changes to your coverage during the annual enrollment period. Annual enrollment is Oct. 15 — Dec. 7 every year. During annual enrollment:

Original Medicare members can

  • Change to a Medicare Advantage plan

Medicare Advantage members can

  • Change Medicare Advantage plans
  • Return to Original Medicare

Open enrollment period

If you are already enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, you can make changes to your coverage from Jan. 1 to March 31 every year. Medicare Advantage members can:

  • Change Medicare Advantage plans
  • Return to Original Medicare

What happens if you don’t join another Medicare plan?

If you don’t take action before December 31, 2022, you will lose your prescription drug coverage and only be covered by Original Medicare starting January 1, 2023.  

Even if Medicare places you in Original Medicare, you still have other opportunities to join a Medicare Health or drug plan. Because your plan will no longer be available to you, and to provide you additional time to evaluate your options, you have a special opportunity to join a new plan any time until February 28, 2023.

If you don’t join a plan with prescription drug coverage or a stand-alone Prescription Drug Plan with Original Medicare by February 28, 2023, you won’t have prescription drug coverage in 2023 and you may have to pay a lifetime Part D late-enrollment penalty if you join a Medicare prescription drug plan later. 

If you join a new Medicare plan AFTER December 31, your coverage in the new plan won’t start until the month after you join.

Last updated Oct. 1, 2022

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