Initial Enrollment

The Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) occurs 3 months before, the month of, and 3 months after your 65th birthday. It is one of the best opportunities to sign up for Medicare.

How to Use the IEP

During the IEP, you can enroll in:

  • Medicare Part A: Part A generally includes hospital coverage. You must be eligible for/enrolled in it and Part B before you can enroll in Part C, D, or Medigap.
  • Medicare Part B: Part B includes general medically-necessary benefits. You are not required to have it or Part A, but you must have it before you can enroll in additional coverage, and you may be charged a late penalty if you choose to enroll later on (unless you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period).
  • Medicare Part C (Advantage): Part C is somewhat of an “all-in-one” alternative to Original Medicare, providing some additional benefits and structured cost reductions for doctor’s visits and regular care. Some plans also include Part D prescription drug coverage. You cannot have both Medicare Advantage and Medigap at the same time, you can only enroll in one or the other. You can, however, have both Advantage and Part D if your Advantage plan does not include it.
  • Medicare Part D: Part D (as well as Part C) is offered through private insurers, so you will also have to find a provider to sign up with when you enroll during your IEP. You can have Part D with Original Medicare or Advantage, but not supplements.
  • Medicare Supplements (Medigap): The Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period (SOEP) is slightly different than the IEP, but they overlap. Starting at your 65th birthday, you will have 6 months to sign up for a Medigap plan of your choice. You can start searching for a plan before this time in order to be prepared. There are 10 different plan options, each with their own variety of benefits at different costs.

How the IEP Compares to Other Enrollment Periods

The IEP is the non-debatable best time to enroll in Medicare. With the IEP, you do not have to worry about any late fees for enrollment. To enroll in Original Medicare (Part A and B) after your IEP ends, you must do so during the General Enrollment Period (GEP) unless you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP).

The GEP takes place from January 1st through March 1st, and may give you those aforementioned late fees. But, if you miss your IEP because you were not yet retired, have a chronic health condition, have Medicaid, or experience outstanding circumstances, you can instead use a SEP to enroll at any time without penalty. So, if you are under age 65 and meet one of these requirements, or are past your IEP but still want to enroll, a SEP is your next best (and potentially better) option.

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