To begin the Medicare enrollment process, use the following checklist:
- Enroll for Original Medicare Part A and Part B
- Determine if you will use a Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan and if so, which one works best for you
- Determine if you want to use Medicare Advantage or a Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plan
- Cancel your current health insurance policy
Each of these steps will be explained in further detail below.
Original Medicare Enrollment
Initial Open Enrollment
The initial open enrollment period is seven months, beginning three months prior to an individual's 65th birthday. It generally takes three months from the time an individual enrolls until the policy becomes effective. In order to ensure coverage by the time you turn 65, it is advised to enroll at the earliest possible date. If you do enroll in the three months prior to your 65th birthday, your policy will begin on the first of the month that you turn 65. If your birthday happens to be on the first of the month, the policy will begin on the month prior to your birthday, if you enrolled prior to that month.
For those who have been receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits prior to turning 65, automatic enrollment will take place on the first day of the month prior to your 65th birthday. Making changes to the type of coverage can be done before your 65th birthday. Medicare will send information and a Medicare card by USPS approximately three months before your 65th birthday.
Part B Premium
While the premium for Medicare Part A (hospital services and supplies) is free for most people, the premium for Part B ( medical services and supplies) is not. If you qualify for automatic enrollment and you decide that you want to decline Part B, you are responsible for contacting the Social Security Administration. Declining Part B is not recommended unless you have creditable coverage, usually health insurance through an employer or spouse's employer. Also, be aware that late-enrollment penalties can result if enrollment in Part B does not take place during the proper period.
Medicare Prescription Drugs Part D
Those who might use Medicare Part D include those who use Original Medicare Medicare, with or without Medigap, or those who use a Medicare Advantage plan that does not include drug coverage. Part D uses the same initial enrollment period as Medicare Part A and Part B. In the case of Part D, no one is eligible for automatic enrollment or free premiums. It is a good idea to compare plans prior to enrollment to determine which plan might best cover the prescriptions you are currently taking.
Medicare Advantage or Medigap?
While Medicare Advantage includes all of the coverage of Medicare Part A and Part B, it extends those benefits often including things such as prescription drug coverage. On the other hand, Medigap is a policy that those who use Original Medicare sometimes add for extra benefits. Medigap does not offer prescription drug coverage.
In the case of both Medicare Advantage and Medigap, individuals are still responsible for paying a Part B premium in addition to their respective premiums.
Medicare Advantage's initial open enrollment period takes place during the same seven months as Original Medicare's initial open enrollment period. Medigap's initial open enrollment takes places following enrollment for Original Medicare and lasts for six months.
Cancelling Private Health Insurance
After enrolling in Medicare, be sure to cancel your current health insurance policy. No one is eligible for automatic cancellation. Watch the timing so that you do not inadvertently pay for double coverage or cancel prematurely resulting in a coverage gap.