Millions of Americans utilize and rely on Medicare for their health care coverage. Medicare coverage is essential to this group of people, and there may be others out there who are eligible but not yet enrolled. So, how do you sign up for Medicare once you become eligible? The answer depends on a few factors like your age and whether or not you are already receiving Social Security benefits. If you want to learn how to find out whether you are eligible for Medicare and get signed up, then keep reading. We will tell you everything that you need to know to enroll in the program.
So, who is eligible to enroll in Medicare health insurance? The first step to enrolling in Medicare involves determining whether you are even eligible. Generally, Medicare is available to those who are 65 and older and younger people with disabilities. It is also available to people with end stage renal disease (ESRD) regardless of age. Medicare health coverage comes in several different parts – Part A, Part B, and Part D. You might qualify for Part A coverage at no cost.
If you are age 65 or older and you or your spouse have enough work credits, then you can qualify for premium-free Part A coverage. You basically must have worked for at least 10 years and paid Social Security taxes to receive this coverage at no charge. In addition, if you are receiving retirement benefits from Social Security or the Railroad Retirement Board, then you qualify for Part A coverage at no cost. Similarly, if you have been entitled to disability benefits for 24 months, then you can get Part A coverage for free. Eligibility for Part B coverage is basically the same, although everyone must pay a Part B premium if they wish to enroll in coverage. If you have any type of Medicare coverage, then you have access to enroll in a Part D prescription drug plan.
Medicare Coverage Basics
You have heard about the different parts of Medicare, but what do they each mean? The different coverage options can often be confusing, so here are the details about each part of Medicare. We will discuss the basics of each part and some examples of what it covers. Also, you should remember that Medicare and Medicaid services are totally different. There are big differences between Medicare and Medicaid, so here are the basics about Medicare coverage.
Medicare Part A (Original Medicare)
Medicare Part A and B are often referred to as Original Medicare. Part A serves as traditional hospital insurance. This part of Medicare covers inpatient hospital care, hospice care, and care in a skilled nursing facility. It does not cover stays in a nursing home or other facility that does not meet the definition of a skilled nursing facility. It will also cover some home health care services like physical therapy, though it does not cover 24-hour nursing care in your home.
Medicare Part B
Medicare Part B is also included as part of Original Medicare, although the coverage items are a little different. Part B is more traditional medical insurance and not simply hospital insurance. Part B covers medically necessary procedures and preventive care. It covers more traditional items like doctor’s visits and outpatient procedures. It will also provide payment for mental health services and some durable medical equipment. There are a few rules that the equipment must meet, but generally, it pays for equipment that has been prescribed by your doctor. Medicare.gov provides more information about the types of equipment covered.
Medicare Advantage Plans
Medicare Advantage Plans, or Medicare Part C, are actually provided by private insurance companies who contract with Medicare to provide both Part A and Part B coverage. They typically provide the same Medicare benefits, but they allow you to manage all your coverage in one place. There is no requirement to get an Advantage plan to participate in the Medicare program, but some people find them easier to manage and are often afforded additional benefits by some of the companies. Similarly, some people choose to purchase Medicare supplement insurance or Medigap coverage in addition to their traditional Medicare insurance plan. These plans can provide additional coverage and help with out of pocket expenses like deductibles and copays.
Medicare Part D
Part D provides for basic prescription drug coverage. If you take prescription medication, then it is generally wise to enroll in a Part D plan. Even if you do not take prescriptions currently, you might still consider enrolling. Failure to enroll during your initial enrollment period can lead to higher premiums for the rest of your lifetime.
When To Enroll In Medicare
We have discussed the different parts of Medicare and who is eligible for coverage, but when do you need to enroll? The time at which you enroll can have a big effect on the premium that you pay, so you will want to make sure that you enroll at the proper time that leads to the lowest costs for you.
For some people, you are automatically enrolled based on other factors. If you are already receiving Social Security retirement benefits, then you will be automatically enrolled on the first day of the month in which you turn 65. Your Medicare card will generally arrive about 3 months before your 65th birthday so that you are ready to start using it as soon as you are enrolled. Similarly, if you are eligible for Social Security disability benefits for 24 months, then you will be automatically enrolled in Original Medicare. Since automatic enrollment includes both Parts A and B, you need to decline the Part B coverage if you do not wish to pay those premiums.
Initial Enrollment Period
For those not receiving Social Security retirement benefits, your initial enrollment period for Medicare begins 3 months before your 65th birthday, includes your birthday month, and ends three months after your birthday. If you are eligible for Medicare, it is imperative that you sign up during this period. If you fail to do so, then the premiums that you will be required to pay will be higher, and you will probably need to pay a late enrollment penalty. If you are unable to sign up during this period, then you can still sign up during a special enrollment period described below.
Special Enrollment Period
Some people who turn 65 may still be enrolled through a group health plan through their employer. In that case, you may not want to enroll in Medicare Part B at that time. For these individuals, a special enrollment period applies. You may enroll in coverage at any time during which you are still covered by your group health plan. In addition, this period runs for 8 months after your employment or coverage ends. Medicare also provides a general enrollment period from January to March of each year during which time anyone who is eligible may sign up for Medicare. Many people sign up during this open enrollment period each year.
How To Sign Up For Medicare Coverage
Medicare enrollment is not difficult. If you qualify for automatic enrollment, then there is nothing that you need to do! You will be signed up automatically, and you will receive your card in the mail. Your coverage starts the first day of the month in which you turn 65. It is that simple! If, however, you need to enroll manually, then you have a few options.
First, you can visit your local Social Security office to sign up. Since the Social Security Administration (SSA) plays a large role in Medicare eligibility, they help manage and maintain enrollment. However, the easiest way to sign up is by completing the online application for Medicare at SSA.gov. Signing up for Medicare online is the fastest and easiest way to get your Medicare benefits started. It will save you lots of time and energy and avoid a trip to the Social Security office. If you have any questions about the process, you can always contact Social Security and ask for assistance.
The Bottom Line
If you are eligible for Medicare, getting signed up is not that difficult. In some cases, you will be automatically enrolled without any action on your part. At other times, you can simply complete an online application to get enrolled. Deciding which coverage to select might be the most difficult part of the process.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What documents do I need to sign up for Medicare?
You really do not need any documents to get signed up. You can simply apply for Medicare online. The information requested is not that extensive because the Social Security Administration already has most of the information that they need. You will need to provide your name, Social Security number, date of birth, and perhaps information about your current medical coverage. Besides that, there is really nothing else that you will be required to show.
What is the cost to sign up for Medicare?
Some people are eligible to receive Part A coverage at no cost. Since Medicare is funded through Social Security tax payments, you must have paid into the system long enough to get free coverage. If you do not qualify for premium free coverage, then you will pay either $471 or $259 monthly for coverage in 2021 depending on how many work credits you have. For Part B coverage, it will cost you $148.50 in most cases. If you have a high income, then your premium might be a little higher. For Medicare Advantage plans, the private insurance carriers can set their own rates for those. You can visit Medicare.gov for more information on Medicare costs.
Is there a deadline to sign up for Medicare?
Technically, no, there is not a deadline. However, it is usually best to sign up during your initial enrollment period to avoid higher premiums and late penalties. However, you can still get signed up during a special enrollment period or the annual open enrollment period.
How do I sign up for Medicare if I have a disability?
If you have already qualified for Social Security disability benefits, then you will be automatically enrolled after you have been qualified for those benefits for 24 months. If you do not currently receive these benefits, then you will need to apply for disability benefits first. Eligibility for Medicare for disabled people depends on their disability determination through the Social Security Administration. There is no separate Medicare disability eligibility.