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Thursday November 21, 2019

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

Understanding Medicare's Enrollment Periods

What can you tell me about the different enrollment periods for Medicare? I am planning to work past age 65 and understand that Medicare offers Initial, Special and General periods in which I can enroll. How does this work?

The rules for signing up for Medicare can be quite confusing, especially if you plan to work after the age of 65. It is critical to understand the ins and outs of enrolling, because the consequences of missing a deadline can be costly and last a lifetime. Here is what you should know about Medicare's three different enrollment periods.

Initial Enrollment Period

The Initial Enrollment Period, available at age 65, is the first opportunity most people have to enroll in Medicare.

If you are already claiming Social Security benefits at least four months before age 65, you are automatically enrolled in Medicare, with coverage starting the first day of the month you turn 65. If you are not receiving Social Security benefits, it is up to you to enroll in Medicare either online at, over the phone at 800-772-1213 or through your local Social Security office.

You can enroll any time during the Initial Enrollment Period, which is a seven-month period that includes the three months prior to, the month of and the three months after your 65th birthday. It is best to enroll three months before your birth month to ensure your coverage starts when you turn 65.

If, however, you plan to keep working and have health coverage through your employer, or your spouse's employer, you may want to delay Medicare Part B, which covers outpatient services, and Part D, which covers prescription drugs. Check with your employer's human resources department to learn how your employer's insurance works with Medicare.

Typically, if your employer has fewer than 20 employees, Medicare will be your primary insurer and you should enroll. If you work for a company that has 20 or more employees, your employer's group health plan will be your primary insurer as long as you remain an active employee. If this is the case, you do not need to enroll in Part B or Part D when you turn 65 if you are satisfied with the coverage you are receiving through your employer. In most cases, unless you are contributing to a Health Savings Account, you should at least sign-up for Medicare Part A, which is free and covers hospital services.

Special Enrollment Period

If you delay Part B and Part D past age 65, you can sign up for Medicare during the Special Enrollment Period. Once you (or your spouse) stop working and you no longer have group health coverage, you have eight months to enroll in Part B. If you miss that deadline, you will pay a late-enrollment penalty for the rest of your life. The penalty increases your premiums by 10% for each 12-month period that you do not have coverage.

The enrollment window for Part D is shorter. You must sign up for Part D within two months of losing drug coverage. If you go 63 days or more without drug coverage, you will pay a lifetime late-enrollment penalty that equals 1% of the monthly base premium (about $33 in 2019) times the number of months you do not have Part D or other creditable coverage.

General Enrollment Period

If you miss either of these first two enrollment periods, you will have to wait until the General Enrollment Period, which is January 1 through March 31 of each year. However, your Part B and Part D coverage will not begin until July 1. You will also be subject to late-enrollment penalties.

There is, however, no penalty for late enrollment for Part A. You can sign up anytime with coverage beginning the first day of the following month.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living” book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published May 24, 2019
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