Throughout life, we miss deadlines. Sometimes, events occur that push the deadline clear from our minds. Or, time may have just gotten away from us. Often, however, we miss a deadline for the simple reason that we didn’t realize there WAS a deadline.
Medicare Enrollment Is Not Automatic
For years, people enjoyed automatic Medicare enrollment upon turning 65 because they were already receiving their Social Security retirement benefits. But changes to Social Security mean that most of us no longer collect that benefit at age 65. If you were born between January 1, 1948 and December 31, 1954, social security eligibility begins at age 66. If you were born on or after January 1, 1955, the magic age is 67.
In other words, if you thought you were automatically enrolled in Medicare upon turning 65 last year, you were likely wrong.
When Is Medicare’s General Enrollment Period?
Medicare offers its General Enrollment Period (GEP) every year from January 1 through March 31. During this period, you can sign up for Medicare Parts A and B if you did not sign up when you were first eligible AND you do not qualify for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP).
You have to wait until July 1 for coverage to begin and you will pay a premium. You may also have to pay a late enrollment penalty. The penalty amount varies.
Calculating the Late Penalty for Medicare Part A
Medicare recipients who do not qualify for premium-free Part A and who fail to register during their IEP may face a 10 percent penalty once they do sign up. You pay this penalty for twice the number of years you waited to enlist in Part A. So, if a full 12 months passed from eligibility to sign-up, you pay the penalty for two years.
Calculating the Late Penalty for Medicare Part B
You nearly always face late penalties for failure to enroll in Part B upon eligibility. The only exceptions are if you meet one of the Special Circumstances that qualify you for an SEP. The most common is having health insurance through an employer when you turn 65.
You pay the Part B late penalty for the entire time you have Part B. The amount varies according to how long you waited to sign up and equals 10 percent for every full 12-month period you could have enrolled but did not. So, if 24 months pass from the time you become eligible until the time you enroll, you pay a 20 percent penalty for the life of your Medicare Part B coverage. This is why all experts strongly recommend signing up as soon as you qualify.
Think Twice Before Declining Part B
With potentially lifelong consequences, it’s important to fully educate yourself before declining Medicare Part B coverage. Before making that choice, contact the Social Security Administration. One of their representatives will explain the full consequences.
Take notes during this call, including the representative’s name, the date and time of the call, and the information given. You may need this in the future, as one of the Special Circumstances that qualify for SEP is that you based a decision on faulty information provided by a federal employee.
If you are considering declining Medicare Part B due to current coverage through an employer or union, talk to your benefits administrator first. Medicare eligibility may lead to changes in your employer-sponsored coverage.
Medicare’s Equitable Relief Expanded Enrollment
Through June 30, 2018, Medicare is providing what they call “equitable relief” to qualified beneficiaries who were affected by the hurricanes and wildfires that occurred during 2017. Decisions are on a case-by-case basis, but basic qualifiers include:
- You live in an area that FEMA declared as a state of emergency or natural disaster
- You were in your IEP or SEP at the start of the disaster
You must contact Social Security to request equitable relief. Call them at (800) 772-1213 or find your local office online.
Final Thoughts on Medicare’s General Enrollment Period
The GEP is intended to help those who, for whatever reason, fail to enroll during their IEP and who do not have a qualifying special circumstance. You have until March 31 to take advantage of the General Enrollment Period.
If you qualify for Medicare but are considering not enrolling in Part B, it is extremely important that you call Social Security so they can explain the consequences of this decision. If you have questions about Medicare Advantage or a Medigap policy, our licensed agents are available Monday through Friday. Just call (844) 839-0813, TTY 711.