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When you're approaching the age of eligibility for enrollment in one of the many Medicare coverage plans, it's important to thoroughly research the benefits and costs of each plan, but it's probably even more important to make sure you enroll at the right time. Missing an enrollment date could cost you higher premiums down the line – or it could cost you coverage entirely.
If you're already receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board benefits and you're a U.S. resident, you won't have to worry about your enrollment date, since the government automatically enrolls you in both Part A and Part B at age 65. (Three months prior to your 65th birthday, your Medicare card will arrive in the mail.)
Your only concern of timing would be if you declined Medicare Part B (and missed the initial enrollment window). If you do decline Part B, you will pay higher Part B premiums if you enroll later on. For each year that you don't enroll, your premium will be 10 percent higher, unless you're insured by your spouse's employer-sponsored health insurance.
If you are 65, but you're not receiving Social Security or railroad retirement benefits, you won't be automatically enrolled in Original Medicare. Instead, you'll be able to enroll during one of three enrollment periods.
For more information about signing up in Parts A and B, call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213. (TTY users, call 1-800-325-0778.)
Individuals who have been diagnosed with end-stage renal disease (ERSD) – and who have had a kidney transplant or are undergoing dialysis– are eligible for Medicare. Your enrollment date in Medicare will depend on the date you begin receiving dialysis or the date you receive a transplant. You may also receive a combination of coordinated coverage from your employer – or COBRA – and Medicare.
Medicare has outlined a number of scenarios to guide you through various coverage options.
If you have been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), you'll be automatically enrolled in Medicare in the month you begin receiving Social Security Disability Insurance or a railroad disability annuity payment. Enrollees with ALS receive their Medicare Part A card through the mail the month their disability benefits begin.
If you want to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, you can do so when you're first eligible for Medicare or – if you have Social Security Disability Insurance, you can enroll in the 25th month of your disability or during the three months before or after that month.
You can also change to or from Medicare Advantage during Medicare's Open Enrollment period, which has changed. In 2011, it's from October 15 to December 7 and it continues from January 1 to February 14 in 2012. (Pay close attention to your options regarding Medicare Advantage changes, as they're not the same during both periods.) You may choose to:
With Medicare's prescription drug coverage, your first opportunity to enroll is when you're first eligible for Medicare (during the seven-month period beginning three months before your 65th birthday). If you enrolled in Medicare due to a disability, you can enroll during a six-month window beginning three months prior to your 25th month of disability.
It's important to note that if you don't enroll during the seven-month period when you're first eligible, you may pay a late-enrollment penalty (LDP) that will raise your Part D premium when you do decide to purchase coverage.
During the Open Enrollment Period mentioned above, you can also enroll in a Medicare Part D plan, switch to another Part D plan or leave Part D entirely. Again, pay close attention to the dates as they affect your options.
Still confused? Read this comprehensive guide to Medicare Enrollment Periods.
It's essential that you're conscious of your specified Medigap enrollment period, since it's the best time to enroll.
The enrollment period begins on the first day of the month in which both you and your spouse have reached the age of 65 and you have both enrolled in Medicare Part B. The period lasts for six months.
The timing for Medigap enrollment is pivotal. If enroll within the period, you can't be denied Medigap coverage or be charged more for the coverage because of a past medical condition. If you miss the enrollment period, your carrier has the option of denying the application based on the company's underwriting requirements.
For most folks, eligibility for Original Medicare is as simple as reaching age 65. But your eligibility for premium-free Medicare coverage – and for other Medicare plans – depends on such factors as your work history and health status.
If "you snooze," you could stand to lose a lot by missing the initial enrollment periods for certain Medicare plans. (Premiums for some plans climb 10 percent for each year you could have signed up, but didn't.)
With Original Medicare, enrollment can be as easy as opening your mail and putting your Medicare card in your wallet. For some other plans, you'll probably have to work a bit harder.