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The When and How of Applying for Medicare

We all know that when we turn 65 we are covered by Medicare. But many people don’t know that coverage is not automatic. We actually have to sign up for it. And we have to sign up during a specific time period or risk a penalty. Below is a quick lesson on when and how to do it.

Social Security card and Medicare enrollment form

WHEN:  Some people sign up for Social Security before their full retirement age. You can sign up for Social Security as early as age 62, but every year you wait, up to age 70, gets you a larger monthly benefit. If you did start receiving Social Security before turning 65, then you don’t have to sign up for Medicare. They already know about you and you should be covered automatically.

If you are not already receiving Social Security by age 65, you will have to enroll in Medicare sometime during the three months right before your 65th birthday. You can do this either by calling the Social Security Administration or going online (www.socialsecurity.gov).

If you miss that three month window, you might end up paying a penalty when you do enroll. Medicare is a form of health insurance. It works like all other types of insurance, meaning it’s best when it can spread the risk among a large group of people. That is why the government wants everyone enrolled.

There are certain limited exceptions to this enrollment requirement. For example, if you are still working at age 65 and your employer has a group health plan that covers 20 or more employees (including you) you can sign up for Medicare later without penalty.

Otherwise, if you missed your enrollment period you will have to wait until the next general enrollment period, which is every year January 1 through March 31. When you do finally enroll you may incur late enrollment penalties.

HOW:  Enrolling in Medicare right before your 65th birthday gets you Medicare Parts A and B. (For an explanation of the various Medicare parts, go to our blog at www.absolutetrustcounsel.com/blog.) You still have to apply separately for Medicare Part D, which covers prescriptions drugs. Or you can apply for Medicare Part C, also known as Medicare Advantage Plan. This type of plan is like an HMO and covers Parts A, B and D. You do this by identifying the private insurance company whose Part D or Part C plan seems like a good fit for you. This will probably depend on the types of prescription medications you currently take or believe you are likely to take in the future. Once you’ve picked a plan, you enroll either directly with the private insurance company or on the same website where you enroll in Medicare (www.socialsecurity.gov).

Don’t overlook this very important deadline. Put the date that’s three months before your 65th birthday in your calendar right now so you’ll get yourself enrolled on time.

Medicare Basics

When to enroll: During the 3 months before your 65th birthday

What is included:

Part A) Hospital, hospice, nursing home rehab

Part B) Doctor visits, lab tests, x-rays, physical therapy

What is optional:

Part C) Medicare Advantage Plan

Part D) Prescription Drug Coverage

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