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How do I apply for Medicare Part C?

Enrolling in Original Medicare

In order to enroll in Medicare Part C, also known as Medicare Advantage, one first needs to sign up for Original Medicare (Parts A and B). For some people, such as those who are already receiving Social Security benefits prior to their 65th birthday or who have been receiving disability benefits for two or more years, this enrollment will happen automatically. Anyone who is not automatically enrolled will have to apply manually, and this can only be done at certain times. The best time to apply is during one’s Initial Enrollment Period, which lasts for seven months surrounding the month of your 65th birthday. There is also the General Enrollment Period, which runs from January to March each year, and Special Enrollment Periods, which can be triggered by the loss of job-related coverage. You can apply for Original Medicare through the Social Security website, over the phone, or in person at your local Social Security office. If you have worked on a railroad, you can also enroll through the Railroad Retirement Board.

Enrollment Periods

There are two main enrollment periods for Medicare Part C. First is the Initial Coverage Election Period, which typically overlaps with one’s Initial Enrollment Period for Medicare itself. Second is the Annual Election Period, also called the Annual Open Enrollment Period, which runs from October 15th through December 7th each year. During this period, you may switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan, change from one Medicare Advantage Plan to another, make changes to specific benefits, and so on. You may also switch or leave plans during the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period, which runs from January 1st through March 31st each year. Outside of these periods, you will be unable to apply for or change your Medicare Advantage Plan unless you qualify for a Special Election Period, also known as a Special Enrollment Period. Qualifying events include loss or significant changes to existing coverage or a change in one’s address or living situation.

Getting Your Medicare Advantage Plan

Unlike Original Medicare, Medicare Advantage Plans are sold through brokers and private insurers. Once you’ve found a Medicare Advantage Plan that works for you and have access to one of the enrollment opportunities listed above, you may apply online, over the phone, or using a mail-in enrollment form from the plan’s sponsor. When applying, you will need to provide your Medicare number as well as the dates that your coverage through Medicare Parts A and B began. All of this information can be found on your Medicare card, which you should have received when you enrolled in Original Medicare.

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