Q: Are there specific steps I should take to prepare for enrollment in Medicare?
A: The process is fairly straight-forward, and in many instances, automated. If you are already receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits, three months prior to your 65th birthday you will be sent a Medicare Card for Part A and Part B. Part A is automatic and free (assuming you or your spouse have worked at least ten years and paid Medicare payroll taxes). Part B is not free, and to decline coverage you must contact Medicare (www.medicare.org). Instructions on how to decline Part B will be included in the materials sent to you three months before you turn 65 (it’s not recommended that you decline Part B unless you have outpatient coverage from another source; Part A only covers hospital charges, so it’s not considered sufficient as a sole source of coverage).
If you are not already receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits, you’ll be able to enroll in Medicare starting three months before the month you turn 65. If you enroll during those three months, your coverage will begin on the first of the month that you turn 65. You can also enroll during the month you turn 65, or during the three following months, but the start date of your coverage will be delayed.
If you’ve got private coverage in the under-65 market, be aware that you’ll need to cancel your previous coverage once you’ve enrolled in Medicare. Talk with your carrier or broker about this to make sure that you don’t double-pay for coverage you don’t need, and to make sure you don’t inadvertently cancel your coverage too soon and end up with a gap in coverage.