What You Should Know About Medicare’s 7-Month (IEP) Initial Enrollment Period

Turning 65 has always been an American rite of passage for American retirees. It’s the age when full Social Security benefits kick in, and when most US citizens officially qualify for Original Medicare enrollment. Original Medicare (“Medicare”) includes: Part A Medicare (inpatient coverage; hospital coverage), and Part B Medicare (outpatient coverage; coverage for doctor office visits).

Most Americans have paid into this Medicare coverage over a life of hard work, taxes and payroll deductions. Now it’s time to reap the rewards and receive the senior healthcare benefits.

“Turning 65” a hallmark of retirement milestones, and understanding these key points about turning 65 and enrolling in Medicare shall help secure affordable health coverage for most seniors.

Medicare and Retirement Planning Starts at 64 (Medicare Initial Enrollment Period)

If you’re 64 years old – pay attention! Although Medicare health coverage starts at age 65, your first chance to sign up for Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B begins three months before the month of your 65th birthday and continues for a total of 7-months.

It’s called the Medicare Initial Enrollment Period (IEP), and every 64-year-old should take notice. The Social Security Administration believes 7 months is more than enough time to enroll in Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B coverage. The Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) is the earliest phase of enrollment. Individuals that reach the age of 65 are eligible for Original Medicare and are automatically enrolled if they are receiving Social Security checks through the Social Security Administration. Those under the age of 65 that have qualifying disabilities may also enroll in Medicare. Understanding Original Medicare’s information and insight can enable beneficiaries from making informed decisions based on the enrollment process.

How Do I Enroll in Medicare?

As mentioned, individuals that reach the age of 65 are eligible and automatically enrolled in Original Medicare through the Social Security Administration if they have been receiving Social Security checks.
There is no need to create your own Medicare account for original Medicare enrollment. However, the following includes the specific windows of opportunity to sign up for Original Medicare:

  • If you are within three months of turning 65 or older or have a qualifying condition/disability, you may enroll in Original Medicare by activating your Social Security benefits or those provided by the Railroad Retirement Board. You may start your Social Security payments on the web by applying at the Social Security website. Alternatively, you may also contact your local Social Security office or the national Social Security help line at 1-800-772-1213.
  • If you or your spouse are set to receive financial compensation in retirement after working for a railroad, you may start those benefits and subsequent Medicare Part A by reaching out to the Railroad Retirement Board at 1-877-772-5772.
  • Once the Social Security benefits are activated, Medicare Part A coverage may commence. Your decision pertaining to obtaining Medicare Part B coverage is made after applying for benefits. If you are approved for the benefits, you may receive an introductory package along with your own Medicare identification card.
  • When enrolling for Medicare you may need to provide your SSN, date of birth, original birth certificate, marriage status or certificate, legal residency documents and evidence of any employer.

For more information visit Original Medicare Parts A and B Enrollment.

Missing Medicare Initial Enrollment: Higher Medicare Part B Premiums, Healthcare Coverage Gaps and Costs

The consequences for overlooking Medicare’s enrollment window will cause financial heartburn in the form of higher Medicare Part B premiums. Although Medicare Part A is free, Medicare Part B monthly premium is currently set at $170.10 for most enrollees. If you delay enrollment it’s possible that you may incur an added penalty cost to your premium: For every 12-month period without Part B, you will be subject to permanent 10% surcharge for rest of your Medicare coverage (i.e. for life). If you delay 2 years (age 67) that’s 20%; 3 years (age 68), that’s a 30% penalty.

For Those Nearing Their 65th Birthday: Find Your Initial Enrollment Period by Birthday Month

  • January: 10/1 to 4/30
  • February: 11/1 to 5/31
  • March: 12/1 to 6/30
  • April: 1/1 to 7/31
  • May: 2/1 to 8/30
  • June: 3/1 to 9/30.
  • July: 4/1 to 10/31
  • August: 5/1 to 11/30
  • September: 6/1 to 12/31
  • October: 7/1 to 1/30
  • November: 8/1 to 2/28
  • December: 9/1 to 3/30

There is also a helpful tool provided Medicare.com that forecasts eligibility dates and premium estimates – visit Estimate my Medicare eligibility & premium

What if You Miss The Medicare Part B Initial Enrollment Period?

For those who miss the Medicare initial enrollment period, there’s a recurring “General Enrollment Period” every year between January 1 and March 31. If you sign up during at this time, the coverage won’t begin until the following July 1. That’s a major gap in healthcare coverage — on top of the Medicare Part B late-enrollment penalty previously mentioned.

Medicare Enrollment Period Chart

The chart below provides the full scope of Medicare-related enrollment periods which includes Original Medicare and enrollment periods relating to Medicare Part C (Advantage), Medicare Part D (Prescription Drugs), etc.

Medicare Enrollment Period Chart

  • Initial Enrollment Period (IEP):
Beneficiaries can enroll in Original Medicare, Medicare Part D, and a Medicare Advantage plan for a 7-month period, including the 65th birthday month, the previous three months, and the following three months. The period will start in the previous month for people with a birthday on the first day of the month.
  • Medicare Advantage -Initial Coverage Election Period (ICEP):
This period runs concurrently with the IEP and represents the 7-month period Medicare enrollees can join a Medicare Advantage plan. For individuals who are just qualifying into Medicare they can enroll in an Medicare Advantage plan during ICEP.
  • Initial Enrollment Period 2 (IEP2):
The government provides this enrollment period for people who could enroll in Medicare before turning 65 because of a qualifying illness or disability. It works the same as the IEP.
  • Special Enrollment Periods (SEP):
Some people have special circumstances that allow them to enroll in Medicare Part D or Medicare Advantage outside of the regular enrollment periods. The SEP generally lasts for 60 days after the qualifying event. People who don’t enroll in Part B because they have job-based health insurance also get an SEP after losing this coverage, which lasts 8 months.
  • Medicare Part B Special Enrollment:
Medicare-eligible people who delayed Part B enrollment because of creditable coverage from a job may have up to 8 months after that coverage ends to enroll in Part B.
  • General Enrollment Period (GEP):
Eligible people who missed their IEP can enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B from January 1 to March 31. These people can also enroll in Part D from April 1 to June 30.
  • Medicare Supplement (aka Medigap) Open Enrollment:
This is a one-time only 6-month enrollment period, typically occurring when a person ages into Medicare at 65 providing new beneficiaries with the Guaranteed Issue Rights to Medigap plans. For individuals receiving Medicare Part B before their 65th birthday their Medigap OEP starts the first day of the month they turn 65 as well. If there is an enrollment delay going past turning 65 then the Medigap OEP will automatically start the month of enrolling in Medicare Part B.
  • Fall Open Enrollment Period (AEP):
This can also be referred to an open enrollment period (OEP). It is purposed for dropping, changing or joining: Medicare Advantage and/or a Part D plan. This time period is between October 15th to December 7th. This period enables enrollees to make a greater number of changes vs the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (MAOEP). Changes take effect January 1st.
  • Medicare Advantage – Open Enrollment Period (MAOEP):
This limited Open Enrollment Period runs between January 1st to March 31st. Enrollees in MA plans can switch or drop Medicare Advantage to return to Original Medicare and enroll in a stand-alone Part D drug plan. This difference from AEP in the sense that you cannot make the following changes during this period: switch from Original Medicare to an MA plan, join a Medicare Part D (prescription plan) if on Original Medicare, or switch from one Part D plan to another if on Original Medicare.