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May 14, 2011

Social Security: Many questions surround signing up for Medicare

If you are going to be 65 soon, chances are you may have some questions about Medicare. "How do I sign up?" "Do I actually need the coverage?" "What happens if I don't sign up now and need to later on? Will I be penalized?" "How do I get prescription or supplemental coverage?"

Let's start with the first and simplest issue _ how to enroll.

If you are turning 65 and are receiving Social Security benefits, you will be enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B automatically. Your card will arrive in the mail three or four months before your birthday.

Now I know you'll be getting tons of junk mail, but please DO NOT throw it away. Simply sign the card and begin submitting it to your doctors, along with any other insurance cards you may have, starting the month of your 65th birthday.

If you are not receiving benefits, but still want to enroll in Medicare, simply go to and file an application online or contact your local Social Security office to set up an appointment.

You can choose to elect Medicare hospital insurance (Part A) only or Part A and Medicare medical insurance (Part B).

This brings me to the next question _ do I need to file for Part B? If you or your spouse is working and you are covered under an insurance plan based on current employment, you can probably wait. Group health plans of employers with 20 or more employees are required by law to offer workers and their spouses who are age 65 (or older) the same health benefits that are provided to younger employees.

In this case, you can file for Part A only, which is free for most citizens or permanent residents of the United States.

Once you or your spouse stops working, you have up to eight months after the last date of employment to sign up for Part B without penalties or restrictions. We call this the Special Enrollment Period. And remember, being covered as a retired employee is NOT the same as a current employee.

If you aren't covered under a health insurance plan based on active employment at age 65, and decide not to file for the Part B medical coverage, you could face big trouble in the future. If you miss the initial enrollment period, which is the three months before your 65th birthday, the month of your 65th birthday and three months after your 65th birthday, and don't qualify for a Special Enrollment Period, you will have to wait for the next General Enrollment Period. This period starts Jan. 1 and ends March 31, and your coverage begins the following July.

However, your monthly premium increases 10 percent for each 12-month period you were eligible for, but did not enroll in, Medicare Part B. More importantly, you could be stuck with huge medical bills and no primary insurance.

So if someone tells you that you do not need Part B _ that your current insurance is good enough _ please get it in writing. Social Security cannot be held responsible for misinformation you receive from your current insurance provider or former employee.

Well, I think we've covered more than enough Medicare ground for today. Stay tuned for a future article about prescription coverage and supplemental insurance. If you have any questions about how and when to file for Medicare, give us a call at (877) 628-6581.

Tracey L. Weaver is district manager of the Oneonta office of the Social Security Administration.

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