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General Enrollment Period for Original Medicare

October 6, 2016

One of the times you can sign up for Original Medicare, Part A and Part B is during the General Enrollment Period. It takes place from January 1 to March 31 every year.

During the General Enrollment Period, you can enroll in Part A and/or Part B if you missed your Initial Enrollment Period and didn’t sign up when you were first eligible. If you sign up during this period, your Medicare benefits start on July 1.

Keep in mind that you may have to pay a late enrollment penalty for Part A and/or Part B. The late penalty only applies for Part A if you aren’t eligible for premium-free Part A.  For Part A, the late enrollment penalty may be up to a 10% higher premium for twice the number of years you were eligible for Part A, but didn’t enroll. If you get premium-free Part A, you won’t pay a penalty. The Part B premium may be up to a 10% higher premium for each full 12-month period that you were eligible for Part B, but didn’t enroll.

Enrolling in Medicare during the General Enrollment Period

During the General Enrollment Period, you can sign up for Part A and/or Part B through Social Security:

  • Online at the Social Security website.
  • By phone at 1-800-772-1213. If you’re a TTY user, call 1-800-325-0778. Social Security representatives are available Monday through Friday, from 7AM to 7PM.
  • In-person at a Social Security office. To find locations near you, use the Social Security Office Locator.

If you miss the General Enrollment Period

If you don’t sign up for Part A and/or Part B during your Initial Enrollment Period and miss the General Enrollment Period, you may have to wait until next year’s enrollment period. You may have a gap in coverage if you don’t have other health insurance, and you’ll have to pay the full cost for health care in the meantime.

However, in some instances, you may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period to enroll in Part A and/or Part B. For example, if you have group insurance coverage through a current or former employer, you can sign up for Part B when this coverage ends using a Special Enrollment Period. You won’t pay a Part A and/ or Part B late enrollment penalty if you’re eligible for a Special Enrollment Period.

If you are under age 65 and  qualify for Medicare based on a disability, or have either end-stage renal disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), the rules are different. You don’t need to wait for the next General Enrollment Period.

  • Typically, individuals who receive Social Security benefits or certain Railroad Retirement Board benefits automatically receive Medicare after 24 months of receiving disability benefits. Your Medicare benefits start the 25th month.
  • Individuals with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, automatically receive Medicare Part A and Part B benefits the first month they receive disability benefits.
  • Individuals who have end-stage renal disease (permanent kidney failure) and require a regular course of kidney dialysis or have had a kidney transplant may enroll in Medicare at any age and at any time. You do not receive your Medicare benefits automatically. You must enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B.  To enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B, you can visit your local Social Security office, or contact Social Security toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. You may learn more by visiting Social Security online at https://www.ssa.gov/.

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