When and how to sign up for Medicare
When you're first getting started with Medicare, the process can seem overwhelming. Between the various options and deadlines, there are a lot of elements to keep track of. Fortunately, there are clear guidelines established to help seniors obtain the coverage they need.
If you're unsure whether you're eligible for Medicare, you can visit the official U.S. government website for Medicare to determine your eligibility and also calculate your premium costs. You can contact the Social Security Administration to find out about eligibility as well.
When you determine your eligibility, you'll also find out whether you need to sign up for Medicare or if you'll automatically be enrolled. People who are already receiving benefits from Social Security or the Railroad Retirement Board will automatically be enrolled in the two main parts of Medicare – Part A (hospital insurance) and Part B (medical insurance).
The same goes for individuals who are under age 65 and have a disability or have ALS.
People who are automatically enrolled in Medicare receive their red, white and blue Medicare cards in the mail three months prior to their 65th birthdays or during their 25th month of disability.
Individuals who must sign up for Medicare have a seven-month window in which to do so when they first become eligible, known as the Initial Enrollment Period. If you fail to sign up for Parts A and B when you're first eligible, you have the chance to sign up during the General Enrollment Period, which takes place between Jan.1 and March 31 every year. When you sign up during this period, your coverage begins on July 1.
Keep in mind that late enrollments for Parts A and B will typically lead to higher premiums.
"There are extenuating circumstances that allow you to sign up for Medicare after your Initial Enrollment Period ends but before the General Enrollment Period begins."
There are extenuating circumstances that allow you to sign up for Medicare after your Initial Enrollment Period ends but before the General Enrollment Period begins. You can qualify for these Special Enrollment Periods if you're covered under a group health plan from your employer or union and you or your spouse (or family member if you're disabled) is working. You also receive a Special Enrollment Period that lasts eight months after you, your spouse or your family member's employment ends or the group health plan ends – whichever occurs first.
Individuals who sign up for Medicare during a Special Enrollment Period typically don't have to pay higher premiums.
Different types of coverage
Beyond Parts A and B, you may also want coverage under Part C (Medicare Advantage plans) and Part D (Medicare prescription drug insurance). You can sign up for Parts C and D when you first obtain Medicare coverage.
In addition to the Initial Enrollment Period, Parts C and D have their own specific Open Enrollment Period. This takes place between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7 each year.
During this time, you can:
- Switch from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage and vice versa
- Switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another
- Join a prescription drug plan
- Switch from one prescription drug plan to another
- Eliminate prescription drug coverage
Finally, if you wish to disenroll from your Medicare Advantage plan, you have from Jan. 1 and Feb. 14 to do so.