If you’re 65, or are just about to turn 65, it’s time for you to sign up for Medicare. But first, what is Medicare, and are you required to sign up for it?
Medicare is government health insurance for people 65 and older, government workers and those with certain disabilities. There are 5 basic parts, including hospitalization, medical services, prescription medication and combination/supplemental.
You’re required to sign up for Medicare unless you’re willing to pay penalties later. If you wait until after you’re 65, these penalties will be permanent and your premiums become more expensive the longer you wait.
When do you Sign up for Medicare?
The Medicare eligibility period (7 months in all) begins 3 months before your 65th birthday and ends 3 months after. If you’re already collecting Social Security, you’re enrolled in parts A and B automatically. If you miss your initial enrollment period, you can still sign up during the general enrollment period between Jan. 1 and March 31. Coverage for the general enrollment period begins July 1.
Initial enrollment means signing up for parts A and B, hospitalization and medical services. During your initial enrollment, you may sign up for Part D, which covers prescription medication. This will ensure that you don’t get penalized.
If you start receiving Social Security, it’s required that you sign up for Medicare Part A. You can opt out of Part B, without penalties, if you have existing, qualified coverage already. Proof of qualified coverage will ensure that you are not penalized later on. Barring a few exceptions, If you do sign up for Part B you will have to give up your private insurance plan.
What Happens When you Sign up?
You’re 65, receiving Social Security, and ready to sign up for Medicare. What’s the first step? Medicare registration can be confusing, but it doesn’t have to be.
The Social Security Administration recommends you first go over its checklist. This will show you the required documents you need. When it’s time to sign up, you can apply for benefits online, or call 800-772-1213.
If you’re applying online, it takes anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. When you’re done, you’ll receive a registration number you can use to check the status of your application.
At this time, you may also choose your plans. You can choose parts A and B, or you can go with a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C). If you need more coverage still, you can sign up for Part G — Medigap.
Medicare Advantage, or Part C, is often the simplest solution. Part C bundles parts A and B (and usually C). It takes most of the guesswork out of making decisions. Getting a bundled plan often lowers costs, as well.
Now that you’re all signed up, what’s next? When does your coverage begin? If you signed up during the first 3 months of your initial enrollment period (3 months before you turn 65), your coverage begins the first day of the same month as your birthday. After that, it gets a little confusing. Here’s a chart you can use from Medicare.gov.
Is There a Grace Period?
If you miss your initial enrollment period, there is still time to sign up. The first general enrollment period runs from Jan.1 to March 31. Coverage then begins on July 1. Enrolling at this time means you can also sign up for Medicare Advantage (Part C) and the prescription drug plan (Part D) between April 1 and June 30 of the same year. Be aware that if you miss your initial enrollment period, you may have to pay penalties. There are exceptions.
The Benefits of Medicare
Medicare is government-sponsored insurance for people 65 and older, or those with certain disabilities. It means having health insurance for many who otherwise would not qualify, or be able to afford it. Nearly 63 million Americans are enrolled in Medicare today.
Benefits of having Medicare:
- Low monthly premiums: If you sign up for Medicare during your initial…