If you’re nearing age 65, there’s something you need to know: unless you’re currently receiving Social Security benefits (having filed early), you need to take action to make sure you receive your Medicare benefits in a timely fashion.
What this means is that you can sign up for Medicare up to three months prior to your 65th birthday. You must sign up within the period from three months before until four months after your 65th birthday, or you’ll face possible penalties. By signing up during that seven month period, your coverage will be on-time and you’ll begin being billed for Medicare Part B.
If you fail to sign up during that seven month window, you’ll have to wait until the next general enrollment period, which is January 1 through March 31, and your benefits won’t begin until the following July 1. Signing up late, you will be assessed a 10% penalty on your Part B premium for each year that you’ve delayed signup.
If you happen to still be employed and are receiving your medical coverage at least as good as Medicare (known as a creditable plan), you’re not required to enroll and won’t be penalized for delaying. After your employment ends (and thereby the medical coverage), you have a special eight month enrollment period when you can sign up for Part B without penalty.
If you sign up while still covered by the employer plan or in the first month after the coverage ends, your benefits will begin on the first day of the month that you enroll. If you enroll at any time after that but during the following seven months remaining in the special enrollment period, your coverage will begin on the first of the following month.
Just like the other enrollment period, if you delay until after it has expired you’ll need to wait until the next general enrollment period to enroll and your coverage won’t begin until July afterwards.
If you are actively receiving Social Security benefits when you reach age 65, you will be automatically enrolled in Medicare. But don’t leave it to chance: you should check with SSA in the 2 to 3 months before your 65th birthday to make sure you have coverage coming to you. In addition, you’ll want to check out the other coverage(s), such as Medigap, Medicare Advantage, and/or Medicare Part D, prescription drug coverage.