Some people who already receive Social Security benefits are automatically enrolled in Medicare when they turn 65. That’s not the case for everyone, though. People who haven’t started collecting Social Security will need to register for Medicare, but signing up doesn’t have to be challenging. Here’s what you need to know about enrolling in the government insurance program. If you’d like personalized retirement advice, consider working with a financial advisor.
What Is Medicare?
Medicare is a federal health insurance program for people 65 and older, as well as those with disabilities and specific diseases. It’s intended to help provide affordable health care to people who have low incomes or limited resources either due to retirement or disability.
Medicare has three main parts:
- Medicare Part A covers hospital expenses such as inpatient stays, hospice care and some home health care.
- Medicare Part B covers medical expenses like doctors’ services, outpatient care, preventative care and medical supplies.
- Medicare Part C, also known as Medicare Advantage, covers health care related to dental, vision and hearing.
- Medicare Part D covers prescription drugs.
For most people, Part A is free and Part B requires you to pay a premium. The standard monthly premium in 2023 is $164.90. Parts C and D are accessed via a Medicare-approved plan for which you will also pay a monthly premium. These premiums will vary depending on the provider and plan you choose.
When Are You Eligible for Medicare?
Leaving aside the minority of Medicare recipients with disabilities or diseases, most will become eligible to enroll in Medicare when they turn 65. You can sign up for Medicare three months before you turn 65.
That period starting three months before you turn 65 is called the Initial Enrollment Period. It lasts seven months, ending three months after the month in which you turn 65. If you miss this Initial Enrollment Period, you’ll have to pay a monthly late enrollment penalty that goes up the longer you wait.
If you sign up before the month in which you turn 65, your Medicare coverage will start the first of the month in which you turn 65. So if your birthday is June 16, and you sign up on May 15, your coverage will begin on June 1.
There’s also a General Enrollment Period each year from Jan. 1 to March 31. Again, your coverage will start the first of the month after you sign up and you may need to pay a late enrollment penalty if you don’t qualify for a Special Enrollment Period. You may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period if you missed your Initial Enrollment Period because of a natural disaster or emergency, got inaccurate or misleading information from your health plan or employer, as well as a few other extenuating situations. In such cases, you can fill out and submit a form to ask for a Special Enrollment Period.
Are You Automatically Enrolled in Medicare at Age 65?
According to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, if you live in the United States and are already getting Social Security payments, you’ll be automatically signed up for Part A and Part B of Medicare when you become eligible. So if you’re already claiming your Social Security benefits, you may automatically receive a packet with more information on Medicare a few months before you turn 65.
If you’re not yet getting Social Security benefits or aren’t eligible for them, you won’t be automatically enrolled and will need to complete an application or reach out to the Social Security Administration.
How to Enroll in Medicare
If you’re not already receiving Social Security benefits but need to enroll, there are a few steps to the process. First, make sure you know when your Initial Enrollment Period begins and ends so you can enroll in that time frame and avoid a penalty.
Second, you can sign up online at the Social Security website, which the official Medicare website notes is the fastest and easiest way to register. You can also enroll by phone by calling the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213. If you’d like to enroll in person, find your local Social Security office for the address and hours of operation.
If you’re already receiving Social Security, you’ll likely be automatically enrolled in Medicare once you hit age 65. But if you haven’t yet started your Social Security payments yet, you’ll need to enroll in Medicare online, by phone or in person.
Retirement Planning Tips
- If you’re not sure whether you’ve saved enough for retirement, our retirement calculator can help you get a better sense of where you stand. Use it to determine your estimated Social Security benefits, how much money you need to retire and how much annual income you’ll need in retirement.
- A financial advisor can help you plan for Social Security, Medicare and retirement. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
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