Medicare, the national health insurance program for senior citizens and the disabled, consists of hospital coverage, medical coverage, and prescription drug coverage. Most participants join all three, and the system is set up to enroll people in Parts A and B the month they become eligible. If you want to enroll only in Part A, you must take positive action to prevent automatic enrollment in Part B.
Take action before the month you’re first eligible to be enrolled in Medicare to understand whether you need enrollment in both Parts A and B. If you’re disabled and receiving Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, in most cases you become eligible for Medicare the 25th month you receive those benefits. Otherwise, you become eligible the month you turn 65.
If you’re not yet 65 and receiving Social Security Disability or retirement benefits, you’ll automatically be enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B in the month you become eligible. In either case, you’ll receive your red, white and blue enrollment card in the mail about 3 months before your enrollment date. If you have determined that you want to opt out of Part B coverage, complete the information on the reverse of the sheet the card is attached to and mail it back to the address indicated.
If, in the month you turn 65, you’re not already receiving Social Security benefits for any reason, you’ll have to take positive action to enroll in Medicare. You can do this by completing the application at the Social Security website anytime during your Initial Enrollment Period, which is the seven-month period that begins three months before you turn 65. When completing the application, make certain to enroll only in Part A.
Medicare points out that you should consider declining Part B coverage only if you have other reliable health insurance that’s primary – that is, it does not explicitly state it’s secondary to Medicare. The most common such case is if you have coverage from your current employer. If you have only Part A coverage, you are not permitted to enroll in a Part D prescription drug plan; nor may you secure a Medicare Supplement or Medicare Advantage plan. In addition, if you need to enroll in Part B at some later point, you may be required to pay a recurring premium penalty for late enrollment.
Because some participants have incurred large expenses by erroneously opting out of Part B, Medicare urges you to speak to your benefits administrator at work or your union to ensure that opting out of Part B is the right thing to do, and then consult with an advisor at Social Security by calling 1-800-772-1213 to confirm. Take careful notes of all such discussions, and make sure to recprd the name of anyone you speak with. This is to help ensure that participants are not confronted with large deductible or co-insurance bills, or with penalties for enrolling late in Medicare Part B.