Get the Skinny on Enrollment in Medicare
Perhaps you’re signing up for Medicare for the first time, or maybe you’re already on Medicare and would like to enroll in additional coverage. Either way, the Medicare enrollment process can be confusing and intimidating.
But not to fear—Aetna makes enrolling in the right Medicare plan at the right time simple and easy. Get answers to your enrollment questions by reading on or simply talk to a licensed agent today!
Medicare Enrollment Eligibility
Find out whether you’re eligible to enroll in Original Medicare, Medicare Advantage, or other Medicare plans.
Medicare Enrollment Periods
Learn about Open Enrollment and other Medicare enrollment periods, as well as when they apply to you.
Am I Eligible to Enroll in Medicare Benefits?
Medicare enrollment is mainly based on your age. The magic number is 65. The requirements for enrolling in Medicare change depending on whether you’re older or younger than 65. Here’s a brief overview.
If You're 65 or Older
If you’re at least 65 years old (or soon will be) and a citizen of the US who's been living in the country for at least five years, chances are you’re already eligible to enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B (otherwise known as “Original Medicare”). You may even qualify for what’s called “premium-free” Medicare Part A if you meet the following requirements:
- You or your spouse have worked and paid Medicare taxes for at least 10 years before you enroll
- You or your spouse are eligible to receive Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) benefits
- You or your spouse worked in a job that was covered by Medicare
In addition, if you’re eligible for Original Medicare (Medicare Parts A and B), you also have the option to enroll in other Medicare plans, such as Medicare Advantage (Part C), prescription drug coverage (Part D), or Medicare Supplement (Medigap). You can do so during any of your eligible Medicare enrollment periods.
If You're Younger Than 65
Generally speaking, if you’re under the age of 65, you are only eligible to receive Medicare benefits if you have certain Medicare-recognized disabilities or suffer from end-stage renal disease (otherwise known as kidney failure or ESRD) or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also called ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease). There are, however, different requirements for each of these cases:
- If you have a disability, you must apply for and receive Social Security benefits for 24 consecutive months before you are eligible to receive Medicare benefits. This isn’t the case if you have ESRD or ALS.
- If you have ESRD, you will typically become eligible to enroll in Medicare plans after a kidney transplant or three months after you start your regular course of kidney dialysis.
- If you have ALS, you can enroll in Medicare as soon as you start receiving Social Security benefits.
When Can I Enroll in Medicare?
There are several different Medicare enrollment periods, each with their own special requirements and circumstances. Browse the info below to learn when you can enroll in Medicare plans.
Initial Enrollment Period
Your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) is the time frame when you first become eligible for Medicare.
Your Initial Enrollment Period lasts seven months. It starts three months before the month of your 65th birthday and ends three months after that same month. So, for example, if your birthday is on August 10, your Initial enrollment period goes from May 1 to November 30.
Now here’s where it gets a little tricky. If your birthday falls on the first day of the month, then Medicare counts the previous month as your month of birth. In other words, if your birthday falls on August 1, your Initial Enrollment Period begins April 1 and ends October 31.
General Enrollment Period
If for some reason you miss your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP), you can enroll in Medicare policies during the General Enrollment Period or GEP. The GEP runs from January 1 to March 31 each year. Keep in mind, if you miss your IEP and need to enroll during the GEP, you may have to pay a late fee.
Open Enrollment Period
Also known as your Annual Election Period or AEP, Open Enrollment starts October 15 and ends December 7 each year. This is the time of year when you can enroll in new Medicare plans, make changes to your existing Medicare coverage elections, or cancel your policies. Any changes that you make to your coverage will start January 1 the following year.
If you like your current Medicare coverage and don’t want to make any changes, then don’t worry. You don’t need to do anything. You will be automatically re-enrolled in your existing Medicare plan(s).
Special Enrollment Period
Your Initial Enrollment Period and Open Enrollment Period aren’t the only times you can make changes to your Medicare coverage. For example, if you’ve moved out of your current plan’s area of coverage, if you’re no longer eligible for Medicaid, or if you live in a long-term care facility (such as a nursing home), you may be eligible for what’s known as a Special Enrollment Period or SEP.
For a complete list of special circumstances that fall within the Special Enrollment Period, see Medicare’s website.
How Do I Enroll in Medicare?
There are a number of ways to enroll in Medicare plans. Depending on your situation, you may even qualify for automatic enrollment. Read on to learn more.
Medicare Part A
Depending on your situation, you may be eligible for automatic enrollment in Medicare Part A. If this is the case, then you can relax! You don’t have to do anything, and your Medicare ID card will be automatically mailed to your home. You are eligible for automatic enrollment in Medicare Part A if one of the following applies to you:
- You’re turning 65 and are already receiving retirement benefits through the Social Security Administration or Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). Expect your Medicare ID card in the mail roughly three months before you turn 65.
- You’re younger than 65, and you’ve been receiving disability benefits through Social Security or the RRB for 24 consecutive months. Expect your Medicare card in the mail about 25 months after you received your first Social Security or RRB check.
- You have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease). You’ll be automatically enrolled in Medicare the same month your Social Security disability benefits began, and you should receive your ID card around the same time.
If you have end-stage renal disease (ESRD or kidney failure) or if you’re not currently receiving Social Security or RRB benefits, you’ll need to enroll in Medicare Part A manually.