The Hawaii SHIP office recently received a call from a woman who left the message, “I looked in the mirror this morning and this young 50 year old was looking back at me. Then my high school classmate called and asked if I had enrolled in Medicare yet? I realized I will be 65 this year, how the time has flown by.”

Our caller wasn’t sure where to start and these were some of her questions, along with our answers that you may find helpful.

How do I sign up for Medicare?

If you are currently receiving a benefit (check) from the Social Security Administration then you will be automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A & Part B. Otherwise, you will need to enroll at

Can I sign up at anytime?

Medicare has several enrollment periods. But be aware. If you miss enrolling when you are first eligible, you may not be able to enroll when you need the coverage and you could face a penalty.

  • Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). This is the first enrollment period and it has a seven-month window around the month of eligibility (which for most is when they turn 65 years old).
  • General Enrollment Period (GEP). This is for those who did not sign up for Part B (or Part A if it includes a premium). The GEP annually is from Jan. 1 – Mar. 31. Coverage begins July 1.
  • Annual Enrollment Period (AEP). This is the next regular enrollment period which is also called Open Enrollment. This is each year from October 15 — December 7 with the change in coverage taking affect January 1.

There are also Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs), which are due to special circumstances and the enrollment period will depend on what the special circumstance is.

What does Medicare cover?

Part A covers inpatient hospital care, skilled nursing care, home health services (on a medically necessary basis), hospice care and blood.

Part B covers physician services, labs and x-rays, durable medical equipment and preventive services.

Part C plans are also called Medicare Advantage Plans (managed care). These plans contract with Medicare to provide all your Part A & Part B services and can include additional benefits.

Part D is prescription drug coverage and is sold by private companies that contract with Medicare or by the Medicare Part C companies. Medicare Part B and Part D have different special enrollment periods so make sure you ask about both.

Enrolling in Medicare is a very timely issue. The state-certified Hawaii SHIP volunteers can assist you in navigating the Medicare maze.


Hawaii SHIP (State Health Insurance Assistance Program):
1-888-875-9229 |
For 2014 Medicare updates: