It is important to know when to sign up for Medicare Part A and Part B. You sign up for Medicare for the first time during your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). The Initial Enrollment Period is the seven months surrounding your birth month (the three months before your birth month, your birth month, and the three months after your birth month). For example, if you were born in January 1953, you are eligible to enroll starting October 2017 (because October is three months before January) and can still enroll through the end of April 2018 (the three months after January).
¯ If you’re already receiving Social Security Benefits when you turn 65, you will be automatically enrolled in Medicare and should be receiving a Medicare card in the mail approximately two months before you turn 65. If the card has not arrived 30 days prior to your birth month, you should call the Social Security Administration.
¯ if you’re not already receiving Social Security benefits, you will need to sign up yourself. To sign up, you can go to www.medicare.gov and apply online. If the information that you give matches the records that Medicare has, there is no reason to have to produce a birth certificate or other forms of documentation. If you were born outside the US or there are discrepancies in the records, you may have to apply over the phone or in person and provide documentation. You may also sign up for Medicare at your local Social Security Office.
Which parts of Medicare should I sign up for?
¯ if you are still working at the age of 65 (or your spouse is working and you are covered under his/her insurance) you may want to delay enrolling in Medicare Part B until you retire or you are no longer covered under your spouse’s insurance. This is because Medicare Part B is not free, and you might save some money by using just your employer (or your spouse’s) insurance for the time being. Then when you retire or lose your spouse’s coverage, you can use your Special Enrollment Period to sign up for Medicare. However, you should consult your HR department or a contact an Office for the Aging certified Health Insurance Counselor before you delay enrollment.
¯ If you are not working and/or do not have any form of health insurance at age 65, you should definitely enroll in Medicare. You have two main options to choose from: Option 1: Original Medicare with a stand-alone Part D plan and potentially a Medigap/supplemental plan, or option 2: a Medicare Advantage Plan.
¯ Option 1: Original Medicare (i.e. Medicare Part A plus Medicare Part B). Original Medicare covers basics like hospital services (Part A) and doctors’ visits, tests and outpatient procedures (Part B). You can add an optional Part D plan to your Original Medicare to get your prescription drugs covered, and you can also add a Medigap (supplemental) plan to cover the cost gaps in Original Medicare. If you choose Original Medicare, you may want to consider adding Part D (to get prescription drug coverage) to avoid getting penalized if you enroll in one later on. And also consider enrolling into a Medigap/supplemental plan (to help pay the costs of Original Medicare). Without these two additions, it can be very difficult to afford prescriptions and other medical expenses.
¯ Option 2: Medicare Advantage (MA) plan. These plans are managed by private companies and are an alternative to Original Medicare (which is run by the federal government). A MA plan covers all of the services of Original Medicare, and usually includes Part D (drug coverage) as well.
Where can I find expert advice?
Once you’ve picked your plan and successfully enrolled, you can relax and enjoy being 65!