Medicare:  When & How to Enroll:

In our ongoing series of posts on planning for Medicare, we move onto when and how to enroll. 
Please click this link to view our previous post on Planning For Medicare, which provides an overview of the Medicare system.

It is important to enroll in at least Part A of Medicare during the window that starts 3 months prior to your 65th birthday, and ends 3 months after.  If not, penalties may apply.

It is even more important to apply for Part B  during the prescribed enrollment period.  For each 12 months when you were eligible and not covered by a group plan, your Medicare Part B premium is going up 10%, and will remain up 10% for the rest of your life.  We have seen this period missed most often by those who have been laid off prior to 65 and are on COBRA.  They assume they are covered and don’t need to sign up until COBRA ends.  Having coverage through an active employer allows you to defer this, however, COBRA coverage does not.

If you are collecting social security you should automatically be enrolled in Medicare Part A at age 65.  Coverage will begin on the 1st month of your 65th birthday, unless you were born on the first of the month then the coverage begins the previous month.  You will need to be proactive about signing up for Part B, D, & Medigap plans at this time by contacting your social security office.

Most of our clients are employing strategies to defer social security (to at least full retirement age of 66, or even as far as age 70).  If you fall into the boat that is not collecting social security at age 65 you will need to contact the social security office to sign up for Medicare.  You should do this about 3 months prior to your 65th birthday to avoid any delays. 

If you are covered under an employee medical plan at age 65 (still working) you should still contact social security 3 months prior to your 65th birthday and sign up for Medicare Part A.  You can delay signing up for Part B, D & Supplemental plans for as long as you have your group insurance coverage from an employer for whom you or your spouse are actively working.    When you stop working you will be entitled to a special enrollment period to sign up for B, D & Supplemental Plan.

Even if you have a retiree health insurance plan that includes prescription drugs, you will need to sign up for Medicare Part A.  Often times, your plan will also require you to sign up for Part B, which will act as the primary insurance with your retiree plan acting as supplemental coverage.

Additional Resources:

Beyond working with your financial planner to design the right coverage for you, there are a number of resources available:

Centers for Medicare & Medicare Services (CMS):  800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227) or

Social Security Office:  National # 800-772-1213.  Or call your local office to set up an appointment.

Local Senior Center:  Senior centers often have resources or people to talk to who are well versed in Medicare related issues. 

State Specific Resources:  Many states have additional resources and programs you can take advantage of. 
In Massachusetts we have:

  • SHINE:  Serving the Health Information Needs of Everyone.  800-AGE-INFO (800-243-4636).
  • Mass Med Line:  Pharmacy Outreach, help with affording prescriptions, information about medications and side effects.  Free to MA residents.  866-633-1617.
  • Prescription Advantage Program:  State plan that supplements Part D.  800-243-4636