This post discusses how and when to sign up for Medicare plus who might want to delay starting Part B.

Signing Up for Medicare: How and When

Signing up for Medicare is easily done online, but knowing WHEN you should sign up (and start paying the monthly Part B premium) is an important decision for some who will continue to have group health insurance after turning 65. If you sign up later than you should, you could be paying late enrollment fees for the rest of your life. If you sign up earlier than you need to, you could be wasting thousands of dollars on unnecessary premium. Read or watch How Medicare works with group health insurance. You should also be aware of late enrollment penalties to avoid paying them for the rest of your life.

If you are already receiving a government check, either a social security check or perhaps a disability check, then you’re already in the social security administration system, so they will sign you up for Medicare automatically. If you’re not getting a social security check yet, then you will need to intentionally sign up for Medicare.

Signing up for Medicare is easy:

  1. Go to www.ssa.gov/benefits/medicare
  2. Scroll down until you find the Sign up for Medicare link.
  3. Complete your application online.

OR, you can call 1-800-772-1213 to sign up over the phone.

Initial Enrollment Period

Turning 65: If you are aging into Medicare, that is if you’re 65 or older, there will be a seven-month window around your 65th birthday called your Initial Enrollment Period. The seven months includes your birth month, the three months before that, and the three months after that. For example, my birthday is January 24, so the year that I turn 65, my Initial Election Period will start in October of the year prior. October, November, and December are the preferred months for me to sign up, but my Initial Enrollment Period will continue all the way through April 30.

Disability: If you’ve been receiving a disability check from the federal government for 24 full months, you will be eligible to start Medicare on the first day of the 25th month. You should be signed up automatically.

Ending Group Health Insurance: If you continued with group health insurance after turning 65 and are now ready to sign up for Medicare, here are instructions from ssa.gov.

Start Date

If you’re aging into Medicare, then the first date that you will be eligible for Medicare coverage is the first day of your birth month. So again, my birthday is January 24. January 1st of that month that I turned 65 will be the earliest possible start date for when I can have Medicare. Those who are born on the first day of the month. The start date is a month prior. So if you’re born on October 1st for example, September 1st is the earliest start date you can have.

If you don’t sign up during the three months before your birthday, but wait instead for your birth month or the three months afterward, your start date will be delayed. However, there will be no late enrollment penalty if you’ve signed up during the seven-month window.

Initial Enrollment Period Example

Let’s look at an example of an initial election period using my birthday of January 24. The government wants us to sign up during our first three months of that seven-month window, so that’s October, November and December. If I sign up in any of those three months, then I will have a January 1st start date. If I wait until January to sign up, I’ll start February 1st.

If I wait until February to sign up, there will be a two-month delay, so I won’t be able to start Medicare until April 1st. If I wait until either March or April (months 6 and 7), I will have a three-month wait to be able to start Medicare. That will be June 1st if I sign up in March, or July 1st if I sign up in April.

If I miss the entire Initial Election Period, and don’t get around to it until May or later, they will not let me sign up at all. I will have to wait until the following January. The first quarter of every year is the General Enrollment Period when late enrollees can sign up. If I’m late, I’ll have to sign up during the first quarter and the coverage will not be effective until July 1st. By that time, I will be 66½ years old. Because I’m late enrolling, I will also have to pay late enrollment penalties for the rest of my life.

Some people want to delay their start date and they do so intentionally, usually because they still have group health insurance. Just make sure you don’t delay enrolling naively because you could be stuck with a big medical bill if that happens, not to mention late enrollment penalties.

Warning: If you start Part B then stop paying your monthly premiums at any point in the future, you will be dropped from your Medicare Advantage or Medicare Supplement plan. You will incur late enrollment penalties for all the months of Part B that you miss, and when you add Part B again, there will be a delay before it will start.

Annual Election Period

While we’re talking about dates and enrollment periods, I’ll mention the Annual Election Period that is important for all Medicare beneficiaries. Annual Election Period is every fall from October 15 to December 7. This is the time of year when Medicare Advantage members and Prescription Drug Plan (Part D) members can switch their plan for the following calendar year with an effective date of January 1st. It’s the only time of year you can switch your Part D plan. And it’s important to evaluate your plans each year because drug formularies will change, and your health may change.

The date restrictions are very serious in Medicare so know that every fall, you’re going to be bombarded with ads and mail and phone calls—people reminding you that it’s Annual Election Period and it’s time for you to evaluate your coverage. I invite you to choose me as your agent so you can ignore all those ads and calls. Book an appointment now.

Group Health Insurance and Delaying Part B

Some people will continue their group health insurance even after they turn 65. Perhaps it’s coverage they have through an employer or spouse’s employer, or through a retiree group or union.

I want to issue a warning here that if you delay your Part B start date because of group insurance and that insurance is not considered “creditable coverage” by the Medicare department, then you will face late enrollment penalties and also a waiting period for your Part B coverage to start. This is such a critical decision that I have a separate video on it where I go over the issues, and I provide a list of questions that you need to ask about your insurance to find out if it’s “creditable coverage for Medicare Parts B and D” or not.

Warning: If you delay your Part B start date because of group insurance and that insurance is not considered “creditable coverage” by the Medicare department, then you will face late enrollment penalties for the rest of your life, plus a waiting period for your Part B coverage to start.

Help is free!

I’m Laraine Sookhoo and I’m passionate about helping you understand your Medicare options so you can get the most out of your Medicare benefits. My help is free, so book an appointment to get started!

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