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When Is The Right Time To Sign Up For Medicare?

Question: Should I be signing up now for Medicare now that I am turning 65 in August 2024 and wondering about all this information about Medicare I see on TV?

Answer: First, I want to say; “Happy early birthday.” I know that August sounds a long way off, but it will come quicker than we think! I enjoy talking to people paying attention to this event and all the media coverage of Medicare issues. This 65th birthday is an especially exciting year for many people. We often think of retirement, and relaxing more. This may or may not be your situation, but you need some information about Medicare.

You are not eligible for Medicare until August of 2024, so you have time to relax and not act on anything yet. There are over 65 million individuals on Medicare, so that is why you see LOTS of commercials and ads for Medicare products. You can certainly look at this information and begin to become comfortable with the language of Medicare, but you can’t sign up for any products or make your choice yet.

Medicare coverage eligibility usually begins at age 65 (some individuals get Medicare coverage earlier due to a disability or illness).

Medicare coverage always begins on the first of the month and for most individuals that is your birthday month. For those individuals born on the 1st of the month your coverage actually begins a month early. If you were born on the 18th, or the 29th or the 2nd of August your coverage begins on the first of August. If you are born on August 1st, your coverage will begin on July 1st. So, if you are born on the 1st you need to start a month earlier with this process.

If you are collecting Social Security in some form (widow’s benefits, early retirement benefits, disability or other types) then Medicare will start automatically at age 65. Medicare will send you a packet of information with your Medicare card, about three to four months prior to your 65th birthday month. If you accept the benefits, you do not need to act to have your benefits begin. You simply watch for the card in the mail and put it in your wallet when it arrives. Your coverage will begin automatically the first of your birthday month, and the Part B premium will be deducted from you SS Benefit. You will receive written notification from SSA about this premium and your adjusted SS amount. In 2024 the Medicare Part B premium for most enrollees is $174.70 per month.

If you are NOT collecting Social Security benefits, then you MUST contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) to begin receiving Medicare benefits at age 65, three months before your birthday. This is a step that many miss as they are approaching age 65. Medicare does send you a letter to remind you to sign up, but some individuals miss that notification.

If you do NOT enroll in Medicare A & B when originally eligible, you will have some restrictions as to WHEN you can enroll and may have premium penalties when you enroll. Not everyone is impacted by this though, because those who have insurance coverage through their employer or their spouse’s employer group may not need to sign up for Medicare because they have coverage through another source.

The contact information for SSA is on the web; www.SSA.gov or call at 1-800-772-1213. You may also reach out to your local SSA office. For those that do not collect Social Security Benefits, you must enroll in Medicare through the Social Security Administration. They simply handle the enrollment; they can’t help you make your insurance decision beyond that Medicare enrollment.

A fact I mentioned earlier, is that if you have insurance from another source you may NOT have to enroll in Medicare at age 65. The other source must be an employer plan of either yourself or your spouse’s active employment. That employee group must be 20 or more employees if you are 65 (100 or more employees for Medicare enrollment due to Disability)

Most retiree plans require you to join Medicare at age 65 if you want to continue to receive coverage from their plans. So you may choose to keep that retiree coverage you have, but you must sign up for Medicare A & B also.

Each year our life changes and we never know exactly what will change. For you, there are definitely changes coming in your insurance situation and Medicare will be a part of that. I think you will be pleased with your options under Medicare.

Janell Sluga is a Geriatric Care Manager helping seniors in our community access services and insurance. To reach her, please email editorial@post-journal.com.

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