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Missed Initial Enrollment for Medicare

Explore your available enrollment options if you've missed your Initial Enrollment Period.
Senior man missing enrollment period.

What if I Missed My Initial Enrollment Period for Medicare?


Generally, the best time to enroll in Medicare is in the months nearing your 65th birthday, during your Initial Enrollment Period. This is the best way to avoid late enrollment penalties or any gaps in healthcare coverage.


However, if you miss this period or choose to postpone your enrollment, you’re not out of luck. If you missed your Initial Enrollment Period, you can still enroll in Medicare.


In this scenario, there are two options still available to you:

  1. Enrolling during the General Enrollment Period.

  2. Enrolling during a Special Enrollment Period (if eligible).


Here, we’ll go over your available enrollment options for Medicare once you’ve missed your Initial Enrollment Period.



What Is the Medicare Initial Enrollment Period?

Your Initial Enrollment Period is specific to you. It is a seven-month period that surrounds the month of your 65th birthday.


Your Initial Enrollment Period begins three months prior to your birthday month, includes your birthday month, then extends for an additional three months after.


How your Initial Enrollment Period works.

If you enroll during the first three months of your Initial Enrollment Period, your coverage will take place on the first of your birthday month.


If you enroll during your birthday month or in the three months after, there will be a slight delay in your coverage taking effect but you will still avoid any late enrollment penalties.

If you missed your chance to enroll during your Initial Enrollment Period, your next opportunity to enroll in Medicare is during the General Enrollment Period.



Enrolling During the General Enrollment Period

The General Enrollment Period for Medicare takes place January 1st through March 31st of every year.


During this period you can enroll in Medicare Parts A and B. Your coverage will begin on July 1st.


The enrollment and coverage start dates for General Enrollment Period.

Keep in mind two important things about enrolling during the General Enrollment Period:


1. Your coverage does not begin until July 1st, so Medicare does not cover you until that point. You may experience a gap in your coverage until that time.


2. There is a late penalty for enrolling during this period, which results in an increase to your monthly Part B premium amount.


The penalty is an extra 10% per month for each year that you delay your enrollment. This additional cost is applied to your premium for as long as you have Part B coverage.


Enrolling During a Special Enrollment Period

If you or your spouse receives health insurance coverage through active employment at the time of your Medicare eligibility, you can delay your enrollment in Medicare Parts A and B.


For as long as your employment continues, and for eight months after it concludes, you are eligible for a Special Enrollment Period.

During this Special Enrollment Period, you can enroll in Medicare Parts A and B without any risk of late penalty.


If you choose to enroll during your active employment, you can specify on which date you would like your Medicare coverage to begin, up to three months in advance. Without specification, your coverage will begin on the 1st of the following month.

Many people choose to sign up for Part A during their Initial Enrollment Period regardless of an employer health plan. There is no premium for Part A coverage and it will not interfere with your employer coverage.


There are a number of additional Special Circumstances outlined by Medicare, which you can find on the Medicare site here.



Late Penalties for Missing Initial Enrollment

Unfortunately, when you miss your Initial Enrollment Period, you're issued a late penalty.


This late penalty is a 10% increase to your monthly Part B premium. That late penalty is applied to your monthly Part B premium cost.


How the Medicare Part B late penalty works.

Note: For every full year that you delay enrollment, the penalty increases by an additional 10%. The penalty amount changes with any fluctuation in Part B premium costs to represent 10% of the current premium.

To understand how and when late penalties for Medicare coverage apply, visit our Guide to Medicare Late Penalties, which includes examples of these penalties apply to your costs.


Important Notes on Your Medicare Enrollment

It is not uncommon for eligible Medicare enrollees to have confusion over how their employer or retiree health insurance works in conjunction with Medicare.


This confusion can result in costly mistakes and gaps in health insurance coverage.

The best course of action you can take is to pay close attention to your Initial Enrollment Period dates. Enrolling in Medicare Parts A and B at this time will ensure that you avoid any penalties and gaps in coverage.

Remember, even if you are employed at this point, you can still in enroll in Medicare Part A at no additional cost.


Then, once your employment ends, you are eligible for a Special Enrollment Period, which again offers you the chance to avoid any penalties.

If you have missed your Initial Enrollment Period and do not qualify for a Special Enrollment Period, you can still sign up for Medicare coverage during the General Enrollment Period.


Be sure to enroll by the March 31st deadline. The sooner you enroll, the better, as penalties increase with each year you delay enrollment.

If you are ready to enroll in Medicare, you can do so online, in person, or by calling 1-800-772-1213.




Up Next: Medicare Enrollment Guide




Helpful Resource:

HHS.gov: When Should I Sign Up for Medicare?

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