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Can You Sign Up for Medicare at Any Time?

If your 65th birthday is coming up, you might be thinking about more than blowing out your candles.  Signing up for Medicare might be on your to-do list, but you may have questions. 

Can you sign up for Medicare at any time? After all, the sooner you get that taken care of, the sooner you can go back to enjoying your life. Or should you wait? Maybe you’re continuing to work and don’t think you need it quite yet. How can you choose? 

The Medicare process is stressful for many people. Here at The Medicare Family, we aim to make the process as painless as possible by sharing our knowledge with you. We want to help you avoid unnecessary mistakes and get the best coverage for your needs. 

So, let’s answer that question. Can you sign up for Medicare at any time? In a word, no. This article will look at three time periods during which you could sign up for Medicare. 

We will discuss:

  • if you can sign up before turning 65 
  • what the enrollment period is at 65, and 
  • what happens if you wait until after you turn 65.

Am I Eligible Before I Turn 65?

The only circumstance under which you would be eligible for Medicare before age 65 is if you have been approved for Social Security Disability Insurance. In that situation, you will be able to receive Medicare Part A benefits immediately. You would be eligible for Medicare Part B after a 24-month waiting period. 

For more information about Medicare and Social Security Disability, read this article here.

When Can I Sign Up For Medicare?

Sign Up for Medicare - Calendar reminder that Medicare Open Enrollment ends on December 7

The majority of people will become eligible for Medicare at 65. You will have an Initial Enrollment Period which begins three months before the month you turn 65. The Initial Enrollment Period will run until three months after the month you turn 65.

For example, Steve will turn 65 on March 17th. He can enroll beginning on December 1st. He has until June 1st to complete his enrollment. 

Medicare coverage will begin on the first of your birthday month if you sign up during the first three months of your Initial Enrollment Period. If you sign up any time between the second of your birthday month and the end of your Initial Enrollment period, your coverage will begin on the first of the following month. 

So, if Steve signs up on January 5th, his coverage will begin on March 1st. However, if he waits and signs up on March 3rd, his coverage will start on the first of the following month. 

There is a funky Medicare rule if your birthday falls on the first of the month. In this scenario, your coverage will begin on the first of the month before your birthday. For example, Janice turns 65 on October 1st, so her coverage will start on September 1st if she enrolls before September begins. 

After enrolling in Medicare, you can shop for a Medicare Advantage plan, a Medicare supplement, or Medicare Part D. For more information on the various parts of Medicare, check out this quick guide.

What Happens if I Don’t Sign Up for Medicare?

Suppose you don’t want to sign up for Medicare at 65. You intend to keep working for a few years and aren’t ready to retire just yet. Can you wait? Are there any penalties for waiting?

If you continue to work and work for a company with more than 20 employees, your employer-provided health insurance will be your primary health coverage. In this situation, you do not need to sign up for Medicare at 65. As long as you have credible health insurance, you can wait until retirement. 

The Initial Enrollment Period, in this case, will work the same as it would have had you enrolled at 65, except the month when your work coverage ends will be used instead of your birth month. Your Initial Enrollment Period will begin three months before the month your work coverage ends and run until 3 months after that month. 

To prevent any gaps in your coverage, you should enroll during the early part of your Initial Enrollment Period. Your Medicare coverage will begin on the first of the month after you retire and lose your employer coverage. 

As an example, Charlotte will be retiring at the age of 70. She has kept her health insurance through work but will lose that coverage when she retires in June. Charlotte will need to enroll in Medicare between April 1st and July 1st to have continuous coverage. If she does so, her Medicare insurance will begin on July 1st, and she will not have a gap in coverage. 

However, if you work for a smaller company with fewer than 20 employees, you must sign up for Medicare when you turn 65, even if you continue to work. In this case, Medicare is your primary coverage, and your employer coverage will be secondary. You will need to take Medicare Part A and Part B for your health coverage to work properly. 

If you do not sign up for Medicare at 65 and do not have credible health insurance, you will be penalized if and when you enroll in Medicare. This penalty will be added to your Part B premium and will stay with you for life. You will also have a penalty if you do not sign up for a Part D plan and have no other credible drug coverage plan. So, paying attention to your enrollment periods and signing up on time is necessary to avoid costly penalties. 

Have you been contributing to an HSA, Health Savings Account, at work and wonder how going on Medicare will affect it? Be sure to read this article with seven tips for using your HSA funds when you have Medicare. 

Let Us Help You

Enrolling in Medicare doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Allow us to assist you. We have over 40 years of experience with Medicare enrollment. We will look at your unique circumstances and help you decide what coverage you need and when you need to enroll. Schedule an appointment today!

Sylvia Gordon, aka Medicare Mama®, is an expert on all things Medicare and Social Security. She is the 2nd Generation here at The Medicare Family and has served on the advisory boards of major insurance companies like UnitedHealthcare®, Cigna, and Anthem. In her free time, she can be found taking care of her animals (dogs, goats, peacocks, chickens), and reading a good book. Learn More.
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