As much information as there is about Medicare, I’m surprised people still do not remember important Medicare dates. The surplus of commercials, mailers, emails, and advertisements probably do more to obscure and confuse people about Medicare enrollment dates. The first Medicare enrollment date to remember is the most important one.
Medicare Initial Enrollment Period
You are first eligible for Medicare at age 65. You can enroll in Medicare three months before your 65th birthday, the month of your birthday, and three months after your birthday. If you do not enroll, a penalty is permanently added to your Medicare Part B premium if you do not enroll.
The penalty is 10% of your current Part B premium added to your Part B premium for the rest of your life. Yes, it never stops. The 10% penalty is for not being enrolled in Medicare each full year when you were eligible. I have client who cannot verify he had employer health coverage for 4 year. Yes, he has a permanent 40% penalty tacked on to his Medicare Part B premium.
There is also a separate permanent penalty for not having a Medicare Part D plan as well.
The exception is if you have an employer health plan that is as good as Medicare. If you do, then you may defer going on Medicare indefinitely without penalty as long as you remain on a qualifying employer health plan. This is the part that many salespeople leave off in the rush to sell you a supplement or Medicare plan.
The Big Medicare Enrollment Date Is Annual Election Period (AEP)
Once you are on Medicare, you have an opportunity to change your Medicare Part D or Medicare Part C/Medicare Advantage plan during Annual Election Period (AEP). AEP that is from October 15th–December 7th each year.
You need this period because Medicare plans change, and your health needs change. You can switch to a plan that better serves your needs during this time. AEP is particularly important for a person on expensive medications.
Part D and Part C plans can drop prescription drugs, move them to higher tiers, or increase their copays significantly. The Annual Election Period allows people to switch to a plan that covers their medications at a lower cost.
Those on Part C/Medicare Advantage plans may be interested in other Medicare Advantage plans that have lower copays and better benefits. The Annual Election Period (AEP) is an opportunity to shift to a better plan.
For those who want to move to a Medicare Supplement from an Advantage plan or go from an Advantage plan to a Medicare Supplement, this is the time for that switch.
Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (OEP)
A couple of years ago, CMS (Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services) decided to create Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (OEP). OEP is from January 1 — March 31 each year; if you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan, you can switch to a different Medicare Advantage Plan or switch to Original Medicare (and join a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan) once during this time.
CMS observed that Medicare beneficiaries change Medicare Advantage plans during Annual Election Period AEP (Oct 15th–Dec 7th), but mistakes happen. The biggest mistake is the plan they switched to did not have their doctors in the network.
Other mistakes happened as well. OEP was an opportunity to rectify the situation. It was a free get-out-of-jail pass. You can make one change to another Part C/Medicare Advantage plan.
Or you could ultimately get out of your Medicare Advantage plan and go back to Original Medicare (Part A & Part B) and purchase a Part D plan.
The Lesser-Known Medicare Enrollment Date Is General Election Period
Another Medicare enrollment date to remember is January 1-March 31 each year for those who missed their initial enrollment period. This is called the General Enrollment Period. Your coverage, however, does not start until the following July 1. You might pay a monthly late enrollment penalty if you don’t qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.
At this time, you may have an open enrollment period for a Medicare Supplement starting in July. You may also enroll in a Part D plan, but you will need to wait until Annual Election Period in October to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan.
Special Enrollment Periods
There is a myriad of Special Enrollment Periods. One of the most common is when someone is past 65 and 4 months and losses their employer’s health plan. At this time, CMS will allow you to enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B without delay or penalty if you can verify employer health coverage.
Some additional forms need to be completed and submitted to the Social Security Administration. Still, you will be enrolled on the date of your choosing and not need to wait for General Election Period.
Rules & Penalties
Medicare has lots of rules, regulations, norms, and penalties. Some of them are pretty obscure, but there is little to no forgiveness for mistakes or ignorance of the law. If you have questions about Medicare, please call us at 402-614-3389 or check out our blogs and videos on OmahaInsuranceSolutions.com. You can also call Medicare at 800-633-4227 or look on Medicare.gov for information about Medicare enrollment dates to remember.