Medicare is a federal government program that provides health insurance to senior citizens. Medicare Part B is the part of Medicare that provides coverage for medical costs, such as doctor visits and preventive care. Most people (if they pay Medicare tax) are eligible to receive Medicare Part A, hospital insurance. However, enrolling in Part B is a personal decision that you must make, based on different factors, such as price and coverage.
Medicare Part B
People who are already receiving retirement benefits when they reach 65 years of age and who have paid Medicare tax are automatically enrolled in Part A and Part B. If you are among those individuals automatically enrolled, you must make the decision of staying with Part B coverage or dropping it. If you are not automatically enrolled, you need to decide whether to enroll in Part B. To make this decision, you need to consider other types of coverage you might have, such as group insurance, as well as your income and your needs for medical benefits.
Medicare Part B and Health Group Insurance
When you are enrolled in Medicare Part A, if you or your spouse are still working and you have health insurance coverage through your employer or union, you need to consider whether you need to add Medicare Part B. Some group insurance plans require you to enroll in Part B to continue providing you with benefits. Other group insurance plans do not work along with Medicare, and you might need to delay your enrollment. If your group insurance does not establish that you need to enroll in Medicare, but it does not stop your coverage if you do so, it might be better for you to actually delay enrollment and avoid paying more in premiums.
Enrolling in Part B
If you need to enroll in Part B because your group insurance plan requires that you do so, you must do it during your initial enrollment period in order to avoid paying a late enrollment penalty. You can enroll up to eight months after your group insurance coverage ends without paying the penalty, but if your plan requires you to enroll and you do not do it, you might lose your benefits.
After Group Insurance Coverage
When your group insurance coverage ends, three things can happen if you have not yet enrolled in Medicare Part B. First, you can choose to be enrolled in COBRA, a federal program that helps people who have lost their employer insurance -- or whose employer insurance has ended -- by allowing them to continue coverage with the same plan for up to 18 months. Second, the special enrollment period for Medicare Part B starts, and you can enroll without paying a late enrollment penalty for up to eight months after your employer coverage ends. Third, if you enroll in Part B, the open enrollment for Medigap (Medicare Supplement Insurance) starts, and you have six months to sign up.