The Medicare General Enrollment Period is only one of the several enrollment periods in the Medicare program. As a Medicare brokerage, we are experts in navigating each enrollment period, including the General Enrollment Period.
The General Enrollment Period is a time to enroll in Part A and Part B when you have missed your Initial Enrollment Period. The General Enrollment Period runs from January 1st to March 31st every year.
However, there is more to know about the General Enrollment Period than the dates alone. When people have to wait until the General Enrollment Period to enroll, they can experience late penalties and delayed coverage.
Who is the Medicare General Enrollment Period for?
People have to wait until the General Enrollment Period to enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B when both of the following occur:
- They miss their Initial Enrollment Period
- They don’t qualify for a Special Enrollment Period
Initial Enrollment Period
Each Medicare beneficiary’s Initial Enrollment Period is unique. The Initial Enrollment Period depends on your 65th birthday. For example, if your 65th birthday is on June 15th, your Initial Enrollment period will begin on March 1st, and end on September 30th. Your Initial Enrollment Period is seven months long.
However, if your birthday is on the 1st of any month, you get an extra month added to the beginning of your Initial Enrollment Period. For example, if your 65th birthday is on June 1st, your Initial Enrollment Period will begin on February 1st, and end on September 30th.
Special Enrollment Period
You qualify for a Special Enrollment Period when you lose active employer coverage. You will have an eight-month-long Special Enrollment Period once you lose employer coverage or end employment, whichever comes first.
For example, if your active employer coverage ends on October 31st, you have until June 30th to enroll in Part A and Part B to avoid late penalties and delayed coverage. If you fail to enroll during your Special Enrollment Period, you’ll have to wait until the General Enrollment Period to enroll.
Note that COBRA is not active employer coverage. If you start COBRA the day your employment ends, you will still have to enroll in Part A and Part B during the first eight months you have COBRA.
What happens if I wait to enroll until the General Enrollment Period?
When you wait until the General Enrollment Period to enroll in Medicare, you are risking late penalties and delayed coverage. Although you enroll between January 1st and March 31st, your coverage doesn’t start until July 1st. Therefore, if you don’t have coverage to last you until June 30th, you could end up going several months without health coverage.
Late enrollment penalties
When you don’t enroll in Medicare during your appropriate enrollment period, you can gain late enrollment penalties. Penalties for each part of calculated differently.
For instance, you only gain a late penalty for Part A when you have a Part A premium. Since most people earn premium-free Part A, most people never incur a late penalty for Part A. However, Part B and Part D have monthly premiums. Therefore, late penalties can often occur when delaying these two parts.
The penalty for Part B is calculated by taking 10% of your premium and multiplying it by the number of years delayed. This penalty is added onto your premium each month and never falls off. This penalty is lifelong.
For example, if your Part B premium is $135.50 and you delay Part B for three years, your new premium would be $176.15. However, if you delay Part B less than a year, you wouldn’t owe a late penalty.
The Part D penalty is calculated by taking 1% of the national average Part D premium ($33.19 in 2019) and multiplying it by the number of months delayed. The penalty is added to your Part D plan premium. For example, if you delayed Part D for 36 months, your penalty would be $11.95.
Remember, you don’t owe Medicare late penalties if you had creditable coverage during the time you delay Medicare.
How do I apply for Medicare in the General Enrollment Period?
If you need to enroll in both Part A and Part B, you can do so online, in person at the Social Security office, or by phone. However, online is the easiest. On the other hand, if you already have Part A and only need to apply for Part B, you will have to print off this form and fill it out. You can either mail it to the Social Security office or drop it off in person.
Once you have Part A and Part B, you will need to decide if you want to add a Medicare Advantage plan or Medicare Supplement plan to your coverage. You will have six months from the day your Part B is effective to enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan without having to go through underwriting. You will have a Special Election Period to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan or Part D plan. This Special Election Period is 63 days that starts once your Part B is effective.
Here are Boomer Benefits, we can help you compare all three types of plans, Medicare Supplement, Medicare Advantage, and Part D plans. However, only our Medicare Supplement policyholders have access to our Part D analysis service. Use the button below to request a free consultation with a Boomer Benefits agent.