In most instances, you become eligible for Medicare on the first day of the month you turn age 65. Whether you need to sign up, and how to go about doing so, depends on the type of coverage you select and whether you collect Social Security benefits prior to becoming eligible for Medicare.
Medicare Part A and Part B
If you are already receiving Social Security benefits before you turn age 65, no sign-up is required for Medicare Part A or Part B. Part A is basic hospital insurance; Part B helps to pay for medically necessary services such as doctor visits or outpatient care. You automatically become eligible on the first day of the month you turn age 65. In most instances, your Medicare card arrives in the mail three months before your 65th birthday. Premiums for Part B (there is no premium for Part A) will be deducted automatically from your Social Security check.
If you are not receiving Social Security benefits, you will be required to sign up for Part A and Part B. Contact your local Social Security office three months in advance of your 65th birthday to start the process.
When You Wait
If you receive medical insurance from another provider (such as your employer or a partner's employer), you can wait to sign up for Medicare. To avoid paying a higher premium, you will be required to enroll during the eight-month period that begins during the month your employment ends or the group health coverage ends, whichever is first.
If you did not sign up for Part B when you first became eligible and you do not have employer-based coverage, there may be a late enrollment penalty when you do sign up.
Medicare Part C and Part D
Both Medicare Part C, also known as Medicare Advantage, and Part D, which is prescription drug coverage, are provided by private insurers whose plans are approved by Medicare. To learn about plans that may be available to you, log on to www.medicare.gov.
Medicare Advantage/Medicare Part C frequently provides many services that are also available through Part A and Part B (Original Medicare). You may want to contact several providers of Medicare Part C to learn how their offerings compare with Original Medicare. Certain plans include prescription drug coverage, which means you may not have to purchase Medicare Part D separately.
When to Sign Up
You can sign up for Medicare Part C when you first become eligible for Medicare. You can also sign up between January 1 and March 31 or between October 15 and December 7 each year. If you sign up at the beginning of the year, you can't join or switch to a plan with prescription drug coverage unless you already had Medicare Part D. If you sign up toward the end of the year, your coverage will begin January 1 of the following year.
You can join Medicare Part D when you initially become eligible for Medicare or between October 15 and December 7 of each calendar year. You typically can join Part C or Part D by filling out a paper application, calling the plan, or enrolling online. Even if you don't take many prescriptions, you may want to consider signing up for Part D as soon as you become eligible. If you wait and try to sign up during a subsequent enrollment period, you may be charged a late enrollment penalty and be forced to pay higher premiums.
Medicare is an important benefit for many Americans, but there are rules that beneficiaries need to follow. It may be in your best interest to familiarize yourself with these rules to capitalize on the benefits available to you.