Tomorrow is the first official day of Medicare Open Enrollment, the period that spans from October 15 through December 7. The Open Enrollment Period (OEP) is the time where you can add or change your Medicare plans without penalty. However, there are some rules about the timing for enrollment in Medicare Parts A and B that could affect your decisions for Medicare Advantage, Medicare Part D, and Medicare Supplement enrollment. Learn when to enroll in Medicare and what restrictions or penalties you might face if you don’t follow the enrollment timeline.
When to Enroll in Medicare Step #1
Before you can take advantage of the OEP, you need to first enroll in Medicare Part B during the Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). The IEP is different for everyone because it is centered around your birthday. Starting three months before your birthday, the month of your birthday, and the three months afterward, you can enroll in Medicare Part B as well as the additional Medicare plans that help cover extra costs. You are automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A if you are receiving Social Security benefits. However, you must enroll in Part B during the IEP if you ever want to use the program in the future. You also MUST have Part B if you want to enroll in Medicare Supplement plans, also known as Medigap, Medicare Advantage, or Medicare Part D.
If you did not enroll in Part B during the IEP and you now want to add it so you can enroll in any of the supplemental plans, you could face higher premiums unless you qualify for an exception for not enrolling immediately. Here is an example from UnitedHealthcare’s Medicare Made Clear.
Susan wanted to sign up for Part B three years after her IEP. Because of this, she will pay a 10% penalty for each full 12 month period after the IEP that she waited. This penalty amount is added to the Part B monthly premium. Let’s say she decided to enroll in 2015 which had a Part B monthly premium of $104.9. The 10% penalty on the three years she waited adds up to $31.47. This means she will now have to pay a monthly premium of $136.37 for Part B.
This is a perfect example of why you should not wait to initially enroll in Part B during your IEP. There are many benefits to the Part B, the most important of which is giving you the options to enroll in Advantage, Part C, and Medigap plans that help provide additional coverage and control out-of-pocket costs from Original Medicare (Parts A & B). Of course if your IEP happens to land in the OEP, then you are good to go!
When to Enroll in Medicare Step #2
Once you have enrolled in Parts A and B during your IEP, you now have the option during the OEP to add additional coverage. This can also be done during your IEP, but if you are past that period, the annual open enrollment is the perfect time to add plans, remove plans, or change your coverage. With all the changes in the healthcare system, it is a good idea to speak with a Medicare insurance specialist on the process for adding plans or deciding which plans will be best for your coverage. This will help you maintain coverage and avoid unexpected costs throughout the year.
Your Medicare Plan Options for Open Enrollment
Now that you know the enrollment process, learn more about each of the options to help you make your Medicare plan decision.
- Medicare Advantage/Medicare Part C – combines Parts A & B and adds prescription drug coverage and additional benefits, including routine vision, hearing, dental, and wellness services.
- Medicare Part D – provides coverage for prescription drugs not supplied by Parts A and B.
- Medicare Supplement/Medigap – covers out-of-pocket costs from Parts A & B with 10 different plans available with a variety of coverages.