How Medicare Enrollment Periods Work

If you’re getting ready to sign up for Medicare, you should consider not only which coverage options are best for you, but when you plan to enroll.

Here are some things to consider if you’re enrolling in Medicare coverage for the first time.

When to join a Medicare Advantage Plan or Medicare Prescription Drug Plan

Initial Enrollment Period

Most people get Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Part B (medical insurance) during this period. It starts three months before you turn 65 and ends three months after you turn 65. If you’re not already collecting Social Security benefits before your Initial Enrollment Period starts, you’ll need to sign up for Medicare online or contact Social Security.

To get the most from your Medicare and avoid the Part B late enrollment penalty, complete your Medicare enrollment application during your Initial Enrollment Period. This lifetime penalty gets added to your monthly Part B premium, and it goes up the longer you wait to sign up. Find out if you should get Part B based on your situation.

General Enrollment Period

If you miss your Initial Enrollment Period, you can sign up during Medicare’s General Enrollment Period (Jan. 1 – March 31), and your coverage will start July 1.

Special Enrollment Period

Once your Initial Enrollment Period ends, you may have the chance to sign up for Medicare during a Special Enrollment Period (SEP). You can sign up for Part A and or Part B during an SEP if you have special circumstances.

Why enroll when I’m first eligible for coverage?

The best time to join a Medicare health or drug plan is when you first get Medicare. Signing up when you’re first eligible can help you avoid paying a lifetime Part D late enrollment penalty. If you miss your first chance, generally you have to wait until fall for Medicare’s annual Open Enrollment Period (Oct. 15 – Dec. 7) to join a plan. During this time each year, you can also drop or switch your plan coverage.

It’s important to understand when you can enroll in Medicare and be confident in your choices. Learn more about signing up for Medicare today!

When can I join, switch or drop a plan?

If you’re not positive about the exact coverage you want during your IEP, you’ll have some chances to adjust afterward.

You can join, switch, or drop a Medicare Health Plan or a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C) with or without drug coverage during these times:

  • Initial Enrollment Period. When you first become eligible for Medicare, you can join a plan.
  • Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period. From Jan. 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 separate Medicare drug plan) once during this time.
  • Annual Enrollment Period. From Oct. 15 – Dec. 7 each year, you can join, switch or drop a plan. Your coverage will begin on Jan. 1 (as long as the plan gets your request by Dec. 7).

Ready to explore your options beyond Original Medicare? Check out Medicare Advantage plans available through BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina.

Explore Medicare Advantage Plans

BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina is a Medicare Advantage PPO and HMO plan with a Medicare contract. BlueCross Essential, Rx Value and BlueCross Rx Plus are stand-alone prescription drug plans with a Medicare contract. Enrollment in BlueCross Total, BlueCross Total Value, BlueCross Blue Basic, BlueCross Secure, BlueCross Essential, BlueCross Rx Value or BlueCross Rx Plus depends on contract renewal.

This information is not a complete description of benefits. Contact the plan for more information. Limitations, copayments and restrictions may apply. Benefits, premiums and/or copayments/coinsurance may change on January 1 of each year.

Out-of-network/non-contracted providers are under no obligation to treat BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Medicare members, except in emergency situations. For a decision about whether we will cover an out-of-network service, we encourage you or your provider to ask us for a pre-service organization determination before you receive the service. Please call Customer Service or see your Evidence of Coverage for more information, including the cost-sharing that applies to out-of-network services.

BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or health status in our health plans, when we enroll members or provide benefits. Free language interpretation services are available for those who cannot read or speak English. Read our Non-Discrimination Statement and Foreign Language Access policy.