A: If you take Social Security at age 65, you automatically get put into Medicare. Unfortunately the retirement age is now 66 and if you wait until then to take Social Security, you’ll likely need to prepare for Medicare at age 64 on your own, and a lot of people don’t realize that.
You enroll in Medicare through the Social Security Office. You can either enroll online, on the Social Security website – it takes about 10 minutes – or you can go to a Social Security office. They recommend calling first to make an appointment, so you won’t be waiting there all day. Or, you can enroll over the phone, by calling Social Security. You usually wait on hold for a while, but it’s another option.
You can start the process three months before your 65th birthday. That way, your coverage will start the month that you turn 65. Let’s say your birthday is January 15. If you enroll in the three-month period before January, your Medicare coverage will begin on January 1. After your birthday month, you have 3 more months to enroll. If you wait, say until January, your coverage will begin on February 1. It always starts the next month, unless you enroll before your birthday month.
People don’t always know when they need to enroll in Medicare – because no one’s going to call you up and let you know. Even if you have a retiree plan or COBRA, you still need to enroll in Medicare and pay that Part B premium. In most cases, if you don’t enroll on time, you will have a penalty for late enrollment, and it’s a substantial penalty that stays with you for the rest of your life. That’s why it’s so important to know when to enroll!
There’s one major exception to that: if you’re 65 or older but you or your spouse is still working and getting health insurance through your or their employer, you don’t have to enroll in Medicare. You’ll usually see a notice from your HR department, if you’re still 65 and working, that tells you whether or not you’re on a Medicare-qualified plan. If you are, you don’t yet have to enroll in Medicare because you have creditable coverage. Once you retire, Medicare gives you eight months to enroll without a penalty.
As part of our Aging Information Center, one of the things we do is health insurance counseling. It’s a free service that’s open to anyone who’s looking for assistance around Medicare and MassHealth planning – there are no guidelines in terms of eligibility. If you’re around that age, we encourage you to give us a call so we can help you figure out who you need to talk to and how to do that planning.
Corinne Lofchie, LICSW is an Elder Care Advisor at Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES), a non-profit agency that supports the independence and well-being of older people in Somerville and Cambridge. For more information, check out the Things to Know When Turning 65 episode of Aging Well at the SCES Youtube Channel, or contact the SCES Aging Information Center at 617-628-2601 for free advice and guidance.