Contact the Social Security Administration
The first thing you will want to do is sign up for basic Medicare. You can do this at the Social Security office nearest you or by going to Medicare.com. Their website does a good job of helping you understand which parts of Medicare are the correct choices for you. You have a seven month window in which you can sign up without paying a penalty later. You can sign up during the three months before the month you turn 65, during the month of your birthday, and during the three months after your birthday month.
If you are already collecting Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board benefits, in most cases you will automatically get Medicare Parts A and B on the first day of the month that you turn 65. The same is true if you are disabled and already collecting benefits, even if you were under 65 when you began to receive payments.
If you are approximately 65 but not yet collecting Social Security, you still need to sign up for Medicare. If you think that you have signed up, but you do not receive your Medicare card a month or two before your 65th birthday, you should contact Social Security. Your card will look similar to the one in the attached photo.
Special Circumstances Involving Medicare:
There are specific situations that complicate things for certain people, as you see below:
For example, whether you are already collecting your Social Security benefits or not, you need to contact the Social Security Administration within three months of your 65th birthday if you have end stage renal disease (on dialysis). This is the one illness that affects your Medicare insurance choices.
In addition, if you are still working and you are covered by medical insurance through an employer, you may initially choose to only get Part A and delay signing up for Part B, without penalty.
On the other hand, if you are on a COBRA plan from a former employer, you should not wait until COBRA ends before you get Part B coverage. You should sign up at the same time you enroll in Part A.
If you are active duty military at the age of 65, you must sign up for both Part A and Part B of Medicare in order to keep your TRICARE coverage.
As you can see, signing up for Medicare is very complicated and different rules apply to different groups. Not only that, if you make a mistake and delay signing up for Part A and/or Part B when you should have, you may be required to pay a penalty which will permanently make your premiums higher.
There are a number of variables that can affect different groups of people ... those who are already on a group insurance plan at work, those who have end stage renal failure, those who are on COBRA, and other groups.
Should You Get a Medigap Policy or a Medicare Advantage Plan?
Once you have signed up for basic Medicare, you need to decide if you will want to supplement it with a Medigap policy, to cover things that are not covered by basic Medicare, or whether you want to have your coverage assigned to a Medicare Advantage plan.
At the bottom of this article, see the links to the articles I also wrote about Medigap insurance and Medicare Advantage plans. Most people will want to have one or the other.
Meanwhile, if you are getting close to your 65th birthday, you need to contact Medicare to make sure you are signed up for the basic Medicare plan that is right for you. Below, I have given you some contact numbers, as well as some information about how you can get free personalized assistance in making the right decisions for you.
Contact Information for Medicare:
Questions about Eligibility for Medicare:
Social Security Administration: 1-800-772-1213
To Get Personalized Insurance Counseling:
Call the State Health Insurance Assistance Program which is also called SHIP. The number is different for each state. The one for California is listed below:
California SHIP: 1-800-434-0222
Regardless of your circumstances, nearly everyone should contact Social Security within three months before or after their 65th birthday and decide what they need to do. This is the first step you should take in the process.
Other Articles You May Want to Read:
Should You Get Medigap Supplemental Insurance with Your Medicare?
Should You Get a Medicare Advantage Plan with Your Medicare?
If you are interested in learning more about preparing for retirement, you may want to check out the tabs at the top of this page. They contain links to hundreds of articles on family relationships after retirement, where to retire in the United States or overseas, financial planning and medical issues.
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Photo credit: www.wikipedia.org/commons