As you approach the age of 65, your mind is probably swirling with thoughts of retirement and all that comes with it. One of your biggest questions is probably about healthcare. You know that you’re eligible for Medicare, but when, exactly, can you sign up? Colorado has several different enrollment periods, and if you don’t sign up at the right time, you could wind up facing delays in coverage or paying penalties.
Initial Enrollment Period
Your Initial Enrollment Period begins three months before the month of your 65th birthday, including the month of your birthday, and then continuing for 3 months after. During this initial enrollment period, you can sign up for Original Medicare (Parts A& B), Prescription Drug Coverage (Part D), or a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C).
Note that if you are already receiving Social Security benefits, you are automatically enrolled in Original Medicare. In this case, Medicare automatically begins on the first day of the month of your 65th birthday. For example, if you started collecting Social Security at the age of 64, and you turn 65 on May 15th, you are automatically enrolled in Medicare and coverage begins on May 1st.
However, if you are about to turn 65 but have not begun collecting Social Security benefits, you need to sign up to receive Medicare.
General Enrollment Period
Colorado has a General Enrollment Period that runs between January 1st and March 31st every year. During this time, you can sign up for Medicare Parts A& B as long as:
- You did not sign up during your Initial Enrollment Period.
- You aren’t eligible for a Special Enrollment Period (see below).
Once you sign up, your coverage will begin on July 1st.
Annual Enrollment Period
Each year between October 15th and December 7th, you are allowed to make changes to your Medicare coverage. During this time, you can:
- Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan or vice versa.
- Change from one Medicare Advantage Plan to a different one.
- Switch from a Medicare Advantage Plan that doesn’t have drug coverage to one that does and vice versa.
- Shift from one Medicare drug plan to another.
- Join a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan.
- Drop your Medicare Prescription Drug Plan altogether.
Any changes you make during this period go into effect on January 1st. but if you are happy with your current coverage, your plan will automatically renew with any plan changes as stated in your Annual Notice of Change.
Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period
Medicare Advantage is a bundled plan purchased from a private insurance company that provides the benefits of Original Medicare Parts A& B bundled with other available services such as vision, dental, and optional prescription drug plans. From January 1st to March 31st each year you can:
- Switch from your current Medicare Advantage Plan (with or without drug coverage) to another plan.
- Leave your Medicare Advantage Plan and sign up for Original Medicare with or without prescription drug coverage.
Note that you are not allowed to switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan during this time. Also, if you currently have Original Medicare, you can’t make any changes to or add any, prescription drug coverage during this period. That must be done during the Annual Enrollment Period from October 15th to December 7th.
Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period
If you are concerned that Medicare won’t provide the coverage you need, you can sign up for a supplemental policy. The best time to do this is during your Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period, which begins the month you turn 65 and you enroll in Medicare Part B. During this period, you are able to sign up for coverage even if you have current health problems. After the initial six months, you may be subject to standard medical underwriting and denied coverage.
Special Enrollment Period
The state of Colorado knows that you may face changes that affect your health coverage. Major life events often allow you to make changes in your coverage without penalty. Some of these changes include moving to a new area, leaving a job, or losing your current medical coverage. Any of these circumstances would allow you a Special Enrollment Period (SEP). Changes made due to a SEP will generally take effect the first day of the month following your enrollment. Many different life events may invoke a SEP.
Qualifying for Financial Assistance with Medicare Costs
Colorado offers Medicare Savings Programs for those who need some extra help in paying for their Medicare premiums. Remember that almost all people get Medicare Part A free of charge. If you have to pay for Part A or need assistance with Part B, there are four programs offered to Colorado residents:
- Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB) Program
- Specified Low Income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB)
- Qualifying Individual (QI-1)
- Qualified Disabled and Working Individuals (QDWI)