March 31 Medicare Enrollment Deadlines Approaching

medicare enrollment period; 31 circled on calendar

Two important Medicare enrollment deadlines are quickly approaching. If you want to make a change to your Medicare Advantage plan or need to enroll in Medicare for the first time, you have until March 31 to do so.

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (January 1 – March 31) is a new enrollment period for Medicare Advantage enrollees. It replaces the Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period, which ran from January 1 to February 14. During this now-defunct period, Medicare Advantage enrollees could disenroll from Medicare Advantage and enroll in Original Medicare (Part A and Part B). Medicare Advantage enrollees have more options under this new enrollment period.

During this enrollment period, Medicare Advantage enrollees can switch Medicare Advantage plans, or leave Medicare Advantage and return to Original Medicare. If you choose the latter option, you can also pick up a Part D plan during this time.

However, there are a few restrictions to this enrollment period, like:

  • You can only switch Medicare Advantage plans once.
  • You cannot switch from one stand-alone Part D plan to another.
  • You cannot switch from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage.

Any coverage purchased during this time will go into effect July 1 of the same year.

Medicare General Enrollment Period

The Medicare General Enrollment Period also runs from January 1 to March 31. This enrollment period is for people who did not enroll in Medicare Part B when they were first eligible, and for those who do not qualify for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP).

The best time to enroll in Medicare is during your Initial Enrollment Period. This is the seven-month period spanning from the three months before your 65th birthday, the month of your birthday, and the following three months. If you enroll in Medicare during this time, you will not be hit with a late enrollment penalty.

You may also avoid a late enrollment penalty if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period. You may qualify for an SEP if you had coverage by some other means when you aged into Medicare. This includes employer-sponsored insurance, coverage under a spouse’s plan, or another means of medical insurance coverage. Beginning the month after you lose coverage, you will have two full months to enroll in Part B coverage under an SEP.

Late enrollment penalties

If you fail to enroll in Medicare Part B on time and you don’t qualify for an SEP, you could face be hit with a lifetime late enrollment penalty. The late enrollment penalty for Part B is 10 percent of the Part B premium for every year you go without coverage. For 2019, the Part B premium is $135.50.

For example, if you go without Part B coverage for one year, your penalty will be 10 percent of $135.50, which is $13.55. This late enrollment penalty would be added onto your monthly premium the entire time you have Medicare coverage, bringing your monthly total up to $149.05.

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