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 can I enroll in Medicare?

Initial Enrollment Period

The Medicare Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) is a seven-month period that occurs when you are first eligible for Medicare.

If, like most people, you’re eligible for coverage at age 65, your IEP:

  • Begins three months prior to your birthday month
  • Includes the month you turn 65
  • Ends three months after the last day of your birthday month

For example, if you turn 65 on June 23, your IEP runs from March 1 to September 30 of that year.

General Enrollment Period

You can sign up for Medicare Parts during the General Enrollment Period between January 1 and March 31 each year if:

  • You didn’t sign up during your Initial Enrollment Period.
  • You aren’t eligible for a Special Enrollment Period.

Note: You may be subject to penalties if you skip your IEP in favor of General Enrollment.

Special Enrollment Period

If you’re still covered under a group health plan based on current employment (yours or your spouse's), you can sign up for Medicare during a Special Enrollment Period.

You have an eight-month period to sign up for Medicare that starts either:

  • The month after employment ends
  • The month after group health insurance based on current employment ends

Talk to your benefits administrator as early as you can to determine your options in signing up for Medicare coverage.

Why enroll when I’m first eligible for coverage?

For most people, the best time to enroll is during the first part of the Initial Enrollment Period. If you sign up during those first three months, your Medicare coverage will begin on the first day of your birthday month.

Because you must be enrolled in Medicare Part A (hospital coverage) before you can purchase extra insurance, it’s a good idea to do this prior to your 65th birthday so you can go ahead and enroll in additional coverage options to avoid any gaps. 

Additionally, if you do not enroll when you are first eligible, you could face penalties in the form of higher premiums later on.

What if I want to switch to Medicare Advantage later?

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

As long as you’ve enrolled in Original Medicare (Parts A & B—hospital and medical coverage), you can switch to a Medicare Advantage plan during two periods:

  • Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period, January 1 to March 31 each year
  • Annual Enrollment Period from October 15 to December 7 each year

During Annual Enrollment, you can switch between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage, add or drop prescription drug coverage, or even switch to a new insurer.

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.