Understanding Medicare Enrollment Periods

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If you or a loved one is approaching the age of 65, it’s important to understand when and how to enroll in Medicare. SHIIP, the Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program, is part of the N.C. Department of Insurance and can help people who have questions about the process.

The Initial Enrollment Period is the period of time an individual has to sign up for Medicare when they first become eligible—usually at age 65. This period is three months before you turn 65, the month you turn 65 and three months after you turn 65.

However, if you didn’t sign up when you were first eligible for Medicare, it’s not too late to enroll now! You have the opportunity to sign up during the General Enrollment Period that runs each year between Jan. 1 and March 31.

If you enroll during the General Enrollment Period, your coverage will begin on July 1. Keep in mind, you may be charged a late enrollment penalty and have to pay a higher premium for Medicare Part A, Part B or both.

If you didn’t sign up for Medicare Parts A and/or B during your Initial Enrollment but had a group health plan based on current employment, a Special Enrollment Period is available to you. The Special Enrollment Period runs eight months starting on the month after employment ends or on the month the group health plan based on current employment ends, whichever occurs first.

Usually, there is no late enrollment penalty if you sign up during a Special Enrollment Period.

It is important to note that COBRA and retiree health plans are not considered coverage based on current employment, and beneficiaries of those plans are not eligible for a Special Enrollment Period when that coverage ends.

If you have questions about enrollment or any other Medicare issues, you can talk to a SHIIP counselor in person or over the phone. Trained SHIIP volunteers are available for one-on-one sessions in all 100 counties in North Carolina. To learn more, call SHIIP’s toll-free call center at 1-800-443-9354 or visit www.ncshiip.com, or call Lenoir County Cooperative Extension at 252-527-2191.