Signing up for Medicare could take only 15 minutes, but a bit of planning ahead can make sure you receive the coverage that's best for you.

Tracey Wetzel, lead trainer at the CLAIM program, the State Health Insurance Assistance Program for Missouri, laid out how to prepare for enrollment in Medicare.

Eligibility 

To be eligible for Medicare, you must be 65 or older or declared disabled by the Social Security Administration. There is a seven-month window to sign up: three months before your 65th birthday, the month of your birthday and three months after your birthday.

There could be a two- to three-month delay to receive benefits if you sign up after your birthday month; this could leave you without health insurance for that period, so Wetzel recommends signing up before your birth month. Missing the seven-month window altogether could have serious costly consequences down the road.

You must also have worked for at least 10 years and be a citizen or a green card holder for at least five years to be eligible. A marriage of at least 10 years allows you to draw from your spouse's work record. So, if you haven't worked at least 10 years but a long-time spouse has, you may still be eligible. 

Assistance programs are available for low-income individuals to help with costs of Medicare. Be sure to check with a health insurance adviser to see if you are eligible to receive these benefits because the cutoff for assistance is above the federal poverty line. Eligibility can change, so check in once a year. 

The basics 

Payment for Medicare can vary depending on coverage. There is no cost for Medicare Part A, which helps cover inpatient care at hospitals, skilled nursing home costs, hospice care and home health care. Part A is tax-withheld as a percentage of income. Part A has deductibles and cost sharing as services are used.

Part B of Medicare helps cover outpatient care, medical equipment and a number of preventative services. If you receive Social Security checks, Part B payments are automatic. Otherwise, payments can be automatically withdrawn from a bank account with Medicare Easy Pay. 

Those enrolled in Medicare who continue to work can accept Part A benefits without signing up for Part B benefits, but Wetzel recommends speaking to a health insurance adviser before doing so.

If the insurance coverage through work does not meet certain qualifications and you miss the seven-month window to enroll, Part B costs could be increased by 10 percent for every full year enrollment is delayed. The penalty could last as long as Medicare is used.

More coverage 

Besides the original Part A and Part B coverage, Medicare Advantage plans and supplemental plans are available, usually for an extra cost.

Medicare Advantage plans include all the Part A and Part B benefits, may include prescription drug coverage and are run by private insurance companies. These allow more protection with a yearly limit for out-of-pocket costs. Extra benefits and services may also be offered. 

Prescription drug coverage may be better for those who regularly take prescriptions. These plans help cover the cost of medication.

Other plans cater to different necessities, such as traveling. A Medicare Advantage plan is specific to select locations, so those who plan to travel might consider a supplemental plan. Otherwise, a Medicare Advantage plan will cover emergencies.

Talk to a health insurance adviser for more information about available plans. 

Heads up!

New Medicare cards are being mailed this year. They no longer contain a Social Security number but have new Medicare numbers instead to help keep Social Security numbers secure.

The new card will come in the mail automatically between June 2018 and April 2019. If anyone tries to offer a new card early or calls about the card, it is likely a scam. Only those new to Medicare will get the new cards early. 

  • Community Reporter, Spring 2018. I am studying magazine journalism. Contact me at nckp59@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5720

Recommended for you

Join the conversation

When posting comments, please follow our community guidelines:
• Login with a social account on WorldTable.
• Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language or engage in personal attacks.
• Stay on topic. Don’t hijack a forum to talk about something else or to post spam.
• Abuse of the community could result in being banned.
• Comments on our website and social media may be published in our newspaper or on our website.