What Is the Medicare General Enrollment Period?

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DEFINITION

The Medicare general enrollment period (GEP) is a window of time when people who missed the initial Medicare enrollment period and don’t qualify for a special enrollment period (SEP) can sign up for Medicare Part A and Part B. The Medicare GEP runs January 1 through March 31 each year. Your coverage will start on July 1 of the same year.

Learn more about how the Medicare general enrollment period works, how it compares to Medicare's special enrollment period, and penalties to watch out for.

General Medicare Enrollment Period Definition and Examples

The Medicare general enrollment period provides a window for enrollment for those who didn’t sign up for Part A or Part B during the initial enrollment or special enrollment periods. You can enroll anytime between January 1 and March 31 every year, but coverage won’t begin until July 1.

  • Acronym: GEP

Let’s say Clara, age 67, says she hasn’t worked or carried health insurance since she was 65. Clara has premium-free Part A. She’s now facing multiple medical problems and wants to enroll in Part B. Since she doesn’t qualify for a special enrollment period, she can sign up for Part B during the GEP.

You can sign up for premium-free Part A at any time after you turn 65, but if you miss your initial enrollment period, you can only sign up for a premium-based Part A plan during the GEP or a SEP.

How the General Medicare Enrollment Period Works

You may use the GEP to sign up for Medicare at any time during the months of January, February, or March every year. Regardless of when you enroll and which parts you elect, all coverage begins on July 1.

Medicare offers the GEP as a way to sign up for Medicare if you didn’t do so during your initial enrollment period—which runs from three months before the month you turn 65 to three months after the month you turn 65—and you don’t qualify for a special enrollment period.

Late Enrollment Penalty

If you’re required to pay a premium for Part A and didn’t enroll during initial enrollment, and don’t qualify for a special enrollment period, you may have to pay a late enrollment penalty. The same is true for Part B—except that you’re generally required to pay a premium for Part B. The penalty amount and duration is different for Premium Part A and Part B:

  • Part A: Your monthly premium increases to 10% for twice the number of years you were late in signing up. For example, if you were eligible but didn’t sign up for Part A for three years, you’d pay a higher premium for six years.
  • Part B: Your monthly premium increases by 10% for each 12-month period you were without coverage and were not covered by active employer insurance. The premium surcharge is a lifetime penalty you must pay for as long as you have Medicare Part B.

Let’s look back at Clara’s example. Clara didn’t sign up for Medicare Part B when she was first eligible and has been without active employer insurance. As a result, her Part B premium penalty is 20% because she wasn’t covered for two full 12-month periods. The standard Part B premium in 2022 is $170.10. A 20% late enrollment penalty on her premium translates to an extra $34.02. Clara’s monthly premium for 2022 will be $204.12.

The Part B enrollment penalty is tied to Medicare eligibility, not access to covered services. Anyone without access to Medicare benefits, say in prison or living outside the U.S., could still pay the penalty if they drop or fail to sign up for Part B when eligible.

You may be exempt from paying the late enrollment penalty if you’re a working individual (and your spouse) with group coverage, certain international volunteers, or if you delayed enrollment due to incorrect information provided by a federal representative. Individuals permitted to delay enrollment can enroll during the special enrollment period.

If you have limited income and resources, you may get help paying your penalty through your state’s Medicare Savings Program.

General Enrollment Period vs. Special Enrollment Period

While both the general enrollment period and special enrollment period let you sign up for Medicare if you missed your initial enrollment period, there are key differences between the two.

General Enrollment Period Special Enrollment Period
Occurs from January 1 through March 31 each year. Occurs within eight months after you stop working or your benefits end, whichever comes first.
Coverage starts on July 1 of the same year. Coverage starts the month after you enroll but could be delayed up to three months.
For those who don’t enroll in Parts A and/or B during the initial or special enrollment periods For those who qualify for a special enrollment period, such as those about to lose employer coverage
There’s a penalty for delaying premium-based Part A and Part B enrollment. There’s no penalty for delaying enrollment if you qualify for a SEP and sign up within the period.

Key Takeaways

  • The Medicare general enrollment period lets you enroll in Medicare Part B and premium-based Part A if you missed your initial enrollment period.
  • Coverage begins on July 1 of the year you enroll during the general enrollment period.
  • If you don’t get Medicare Part B when you’re first eligible or drop it then sign up later, you’ll likely pay a penalty for the period you were without coverage.
  • Individuals who qualify for a special enrollment period may be able to avoid late-enrollment penalties.

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Article Sources

  1. Congressional Research Service. “Medicare Part B: Enrollment and Premiums,” Page 8.

  2. Medicare.gov. “When Does Medicare Coverage Start?

  3. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “Enrolling in Medicare Part A and Part B,” Page 13.

  4. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “Enrolling in Medicare Part A and Part B,” Page 7.

  5. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “2022 Medicare Parts A & B Premiums and Deductibles/2022 Medicare Part D Income-Related Monthly Adjustment Amounts.”