Medicare late enrollment opportunities

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Bill Salganik

Medicare’s best-known annual enrollment period — for prescription coverage and for Medicare Advantage (HMOs and other full health insurance plans) — ended Dec. 7, 2011. There are, however, other enrollment periods you need to know about. Here are some that you can use now:

Basic Medicare

The annual general enrollment period for Medicare Parts A and B is Jan.1 to March 31. (You can sign up outside that period when you’re turning 65, or when you’re leaving employer coverage.)

You’re automatically enrolled in Medicare if you’re collecting Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits when you turn 65. If you’re waiting for benefits, however — Social Security “full retirement age” is 66 — you need to sign up separately for Medicare.

You should do this even if you’re covered by other health insurance, although if you’re covered because you’re still working, or because your spouse is, you probably should defer Medicare Part B.

If you missed the chance to sign up when you turned 65, this January through March period is your opportunity to get in. You can do it online at, by visiting a Social Security office, or by calling Social Security at 1-800-772-1213. Your enrollment will be effective July 1.

For those in assistance programs

If you’re enrolled in the federal Extra Help Program or the state’s Senior Prescription Drug Assistance Program, you can switch prescription or Medicare Advantage plans outside the regular enrollment period.

If you’re eligible for assistance programs but haven’t signed up, you can do so any time; there’s no specific enrollment period. You can be eligible for one of these programs if your annual income is below $32,670 for an individual or $44,130 for a couple.

Switching out of Medicare Advantage

If you’re in a Medicare Advantage (HMO or other full health insurance program) plan, but want to return to Original Medicare, you can do so between Jan. 1 and Feb. 14. The change takes effect the first of the month after your new enrollment.


Medigap (sometimes called Medicare supplement) policies don’t have a specific enrollment period, so if you need Medigap, you can get it any time.

Within six months of when you turn 65 or leave employer coverage, you can get Medigap without having to answer health questions. 

For more information about these and other Medicare questions, or to make an appointment for one-on-one counseling, call the Howard County Senior Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) at (410) 313-7392.

Bill Sagalnik is a counselor with the Senior Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) of Howard County.