Timing is everything when you’re enrolling in Medicare, and a lot depends on your specific situation. Turning 65 is a big life event, and thousands of baby boomers are doing it every day.
Here’s what you need to know to get started
- You must be 65 to enroll in Medicare—your spouse’s age doesn’t count.
- You may enroll in Medicare even if you’re not collecting Social Security yet.
- You may enroll in Medicare even if you work past age 65 and have employer coverage, or you are 65 and have coverage through your spouse’s employer.
Your first chance to sign up for Medicare is called your Initial Enrollment Period. It happens around your 65th birthday and lasts a total of 7 months. It includes your birthday month plus the 3 months before and the 3 months after. It’s best to sign up early to avoid gaps in coverage and late enrollment penalties.
You may be enrolled in Medicare automatically if you currently receive Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board benefits. You’ll receive your Medicare card in the mail a few months before your 65th birthday. You still have an initial enrollment period during which you may make Medicare coverage decisions.
Initial Enrollment Period
You have many choices when it comes to Medicare. Your initial enrollment period is the time to make decisions about the kind of coverage you need. You may:
- Enroll in Part A, Part B or both.
- Make other coverage choices if you enroll in both Parts A and B.
You must notify Medicare if you were enrolled in Part B automatically and choose to delay or refuse it. Follow the directions on the back of your Medicare card. Note that you could be charged a Part B premium penalty if you decide to enroll in Part B later, unless you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.
Working Past Age 65
A lot of people reach the age of Medicare eligibility and continue to work. Many have health insurance through their employers. What about Medicare?
Here’s what you need to know:
- You still have a Medicare Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) when you turn 65. You may want to enroll in Part A during this time. It’s premium free, as long as you or your spouse worked and paid Medicare taxes for at least 10 years.
- You have to be proactive and enroll in Medicare yourself. Medicare doesn’t notify you about your IEP unless you currently get Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board benefits.
- You may qualify for a Medicare Special Enrollment Period (SEP) that allows you to delay enrolling in Part B and Part D without incurring late enrollment penalties. You need to get confirmation of creditable coverage from your employer.
What if I miss my enrollment period?
Medicare provides a General Enrollment Period (GEP) every year for people who missed signing up when they were first eligible. It’s like make-up time for Medicare enrollment.
The General Enrollment Period is January 1 – March 31 every year.
Here’s what you need to know:
- You can enroll in Part A, Part B or both during this time.
- Coverage begins on July 1 of the same year.
- You may have to pay a late enrollment penalty.
- You may be eligible enroll in a Medicare Advantage (Part C) or a prescription drug (Part D) plan April 1 – June 30 of the same year.