Part 3: Enrolling in Medicare: Timing and the Enrollment Process
When enrolling in Medicare, timing matters. It’s crucial to know that you may not be automatically enrolled in Medicare. Eligibility for Medicare generally begins at age 65, so it likely will be up to you to contact Social Security and start the enrollment process.
The best window for enrolling in Medicare is within three months before your 65th birthday. This will allow you time to weigh your options and make good decisions. The enrollment period extends three months after your 65th birthday, but experts do not recommend waiting that long. If you’re already collecting Social Security, you’ll automatically be enrolled in Part A. If you’ve delayed receiving Social Security or you don’t qualify for it, you won’t be automatically enrolled. Instead, you can enroll in Medicare online through Social Security’s website.
If you have delayed Social Security, be sure to take the initiative and enroll in Medicare. Again, you will not be notified that you are eligible if you are 65 and not collecting Social Security.
It’s important to enroll during the six-month period around your 65th birthday. If you miss your Medicare enrollment window, you can still enroll during Medicare’s general enrollment period, but this may result in a period of months without health coverage. In addition, you may find you’re socked with late-enrollment penalties for Part B and Part D if you didn’t have employer-sponsored coverage prior to enrolling, and these are permanent monthly penalties.
Whether you call Social Security, visit their office or enroll online, you’ll make decisions about whether to take Original Medicare (Parts A and B) or choose a Medicare Advantage plan. If you choose Original Medicare, you also can choose a Part D Prescription Drug Plan and a Medigap policy. Do your research in advance so you’re ready to make the choices that are right for you. It’s also important to know how other insurance coverage you may have works with Medicare, such as TRICARE, employer-sponsored coverage and veterans’ benefits.
You’ve learned about the timing of Medicare enrollment and about the enrollment process. Next, we’ll talk about how to avoid common pitfalls and mistakes in Medicare enrollment.