When is the correct time to enroll in Medicare?

Enrollment into Medicare or choosing different Medicare coverage may only happen during specific times of the year. This month we will learn about these enrollment periods, so you can make the most of them. As a reminder, initial Medicare enrollment is processed through the Social Security Administration, whether in-person during an appointment, over the telephone, or by going online through Social Security’s website.

Know when to sign up for Medicare for the first time

You may be automatically enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B (also called Original Medicare). For example, if you are already collecting Social Security retirement benefits and then you turn age 65. Other people need to actively enroll during certain times of the year. There are three times you can enroll in Medicare for the first time.

Your first enrollment period is the Initial Enrollment Period (IEP), spanning seven months. This includes the three months before your 65th birthday month, the month of your 65th birthday, and the three months after your 65th birthday month. If you enroll during the three months before your 65th birthday month, your Medicare will start on the first day of your birthday month. If you enroll later in your IEP, your Medicare will start on the first day of the month after you enroll.

If you miss your IEP, another enrollment period you may use is called the General Enrollment Period (GEP), which occurs annually from Jan, 1 through March 31. Your Medicare starts the first day of the month after you enroll. When you enroll during the GEP, you may have to pay a premium penalty, which is based upon each 12-month period you could have had Medicare but were not enrolled. That premium penalty will usually apply for as long as you have Medicare.

Know whether you are eligible for a Special Enrollment Period

If you miss your IEP, you may be eligible to enroll during a third enrollment period, called a Special Enrollment Period (SEP), which are periods of time outside normal enrollment periods when you can enroll in Medicare. You may be eligible for an SEP to enroll in Medicare if:

You have health coverage from current employment or had this coverage within the last eight months;

Your Medicaid coverage ended;

You are in an area affected by a disaster or emergency;

You were recently released from incarceration;

You missed an enrollment period because of misinformation from your employer or health plan;

You experience other exceptional circumstances, which Social Security assesses on a case-by-case basis.

Know when you can make changes to your Medicare

Every fall, Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period (OEP) is available from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. During this time, you may make changes to your Part D Prescription Drug Plan (PDP) coverage. Whatever changes you make become effective on Jan. 1.

Eligible SEPs are usually triggered by life circumstances, for example when experiencing enrollment errors, such as enrolling in a plan because of misleading marketing or incorrect information. While Original Medicare supports your healthcare nationwide, if you have moved to Alaska and were covered by a Medicare Advantage plan, then you will qualify for an SEP based upon your change in residence.

Beware of medical identity theft

Medical identity theft is when someone steals your personal information to get medical treatment or products and bill your insurance for it. It is important to protect your Medicare number like you would a credit card. Only share it with trusted individuals. Report potential medical identify theft if:

You gave your Medicare number over the phone or internet to someone offering medical items like durable medical equipment, genetic testing, COVID-19 testing, or back braces;

You see charges on your Medicare statements for services or items you did not receive or need;

You are contacted by a debt collection agency for a bill for services you did not receive;

You receive boxes of braces, testing kits, or other medical items in the mail that you did not request.

For any Medicare related questions, please feel free to contact the State of Alaska Medicare Information Office at 800-478-6065 or 907-269-3680; our office is also known as the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), the Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP), and the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers (MIPPA) program.

If you are part of an agency or organization that assists seniors with medical resources, consider networking with the Medicare Information Office.  Call us to inquire about our new Ambassador program.

Sean McPhilamy is a volunteer and Certified Medicare Counselor at the Alaska Medicare Information Office.

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