The Medicare Enrollment Periods
Understanding the healthcare options available to you as you near the age for Medicare eligibility can seem overwhelming, particularly with knowing when to enroll. While enrollment deadlines vary depending on certain circumstances, missing a deadline can cost you money. Use this guide familiarize yourself with Medicare enrollment guidelines so you’re ready for your eligibility period.
If you're at least age 62 and decide to apply for your Railroad Retirement Board or Social Security retirement benefits early, you can sign up for Medicare Part B at the same time. You will automatically be enrolled in Original Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Part B, which pays doctor bills and outpatient medical services, once you turn 65.
Although you pay a monthly premium for Medicare Part B, Medicare Part A is free, providing you paid Medicare taxes while you were still working. When you begin receiving your retirement benefits, your monthly Part B premium is deducted from your monthly benefit payment.
In most cases, if you don’t decide to enroll in Medicare Part B when you first become eligible at age 65, you have to pay a penalty for late enrollment. You also may find yourself without Part B coverage for several months after signing up.
The late enrollment penalty can increase the cost of your Medicare Part B premium by 10 percent for every 12-month period you are eligible for the coverage but choose not to take it. Even after you enroll in Medicare Part B, you may have to pay the higher premium cost for the rest of your life or for as long as you have Part B coverage.
You are exempt from the late enrollment penalty only if you delay enrolling in Medicare Part B because you have group health insurance through an employer. Retiree health benefits and COBRA — which allows continuation of employee group health benefits for a time — are not considered health coverage based on current employment. Therefore, the late enrollment penalty exemption does not apply.
If you aren't yet receiving Social Security retirement benefits but are nearing age 65, you can sign up for Medicare Part A, Medicare Part B, or both during the period when you first become eligible for Medicare benefits. You can enroll in Medicare even if don't plan to sign up for retirement benefits until later.
Therefore, you can still sign up for Medicare if you are waiting until your full retirement age to sign up for Social Security retirement benefits. You should also sign up for Medicare at age 65 if you decide to delay signing up for your retirement benefits past your full retirement age to increase your Social Security benefits.
Your initial enrollment period is the seven-month period that includes the three months before the month of your 65th birthday, the month of your birthday, and the three months immediately following your birthday. If you do not sign up for Medicare when you are first eligible — in which case the late enrollment penalty may apply — you can enroll during the general enrollment period for Original Medicare between January 1 and March 31 of each year.
However, you have the option of signing up for Medicare at any time while you are covered by a group plan, whether through your employer or your spouse's employer. If you lose your group coverage or decide you want Medicare instead, you can sign up for Medicare coverage during a special enrollment period. Your special enrollment period is the eight-month period that begins the month your employment ends or when you lose your group health coverage, whichever comes first.
Methods of Enrollment
To enroll in Medicare Part A or Medicare Part B, visit your local Social Security office, call the Social Security Administration's main number and talk to a representative, or visit the Social Security website to file your Medicare application online.
If you have additional questions about Medicare eligibility, enrollment periods, coverage, and cost, contact Senior Advisors for help getting you started on your way.
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