Hello Toni,

I am new to your column. Extremely informative! I am turning 65 next March and am puzzled about Medicare’s 7-month enrollment period. I’ve heard that this period is only for Medicare Part B and that confuses me because I do not know how to enroll in Medicare’s Part A.

I do not know how the 7-month window works. How soon can I enroll? Can I enroll in Medicare Part A and B together? I work part-time and am not eligible for company benefits, so I want to enroll ASAP. Please explain what I should do. Thanks.

-Gary from Oakland, Calif.


Thanks for your comments about “Toni Says,” and you are not alone in your confusion. Most of America is confused about how to enroll Medicare the right way, to keep from receiving dreaded Medicare penalties.

The 7-month Medicare Initial Enrollment Period is for those who wish to enroll in Medicare Parts A and B together, not separately, when turning 65 and when not covered by employer group health insurance.

Medicare’s Initial Enrollment Period begins 3-months before the month you turn 65, includes the month you turn 65, and ends 3-months after turning 65 for a total window of 7 months. If you are covered on Medicare Parts A and B by the end of your Initial Enrollment Period, you can sleep free from worry about Medicare penalties.

When you are covered by employer group health insurance, whether through your employer or a spouse’s employer group health plan, there is protection from the Medicare Part B penalty for choosing not to enroll in Medicare Part B when turning 65.

That means you can, if you are employed full-time with employer group benefits or covered under a spouse’s employer group health plan, enroll only in Medicare Part A during Medicare’s 7-month Initial Enrollment Period when turning 65.

One caution about enrolling in Medicare Part A when you are an employee with a Health Savings Account (HSA) benefit: You must stop making HSA contributions the month prior to turning 65 if enrolling in Medicare Part A. (Visit www.tonisays.com for more information.)

Visit www.ssa.gov to create a My Social Security Account to enroll in Medicare, because everything is processed online at www.ssa.gov/benefits/medicare. For your Medicare to begin the month you are turning 65, you want to begin enrolling during the 3 months before turning 65. If you enroll the month you turn 65, your Medicare will begin the month after. If you enroll during the 3 months after your birthday, your Medicare effective date will be further delayed.

Additionally, it is important to know whether you are going to take your Social Security check when you turn 65. If you take your Social Security check, your Medicare will begin the month you turn 65. If you are not receiving a Social Security check, then it will be your responsibility to visit www.ssa.gov/benefits/medicare and enroll in Medicare. By not enrolling at the right time, you put yourself at risk of a Medicare Part B and D penalty.

When you enroll in Medicare Part B (or both A and B at once), that is the time to choose whether to go with Original Medicare with a Medicare Supplement and a stand-alone Medicare Part D for your prescriptions, or with a Medicare Advantage Plan, which includes a Medicare Part D prescription plan.

If you delay enrolling in Medicare Part B, you can claim a Special Enrollment Period whenever you lose (or your spouse loses) employer group health coverage for any reason (retirement, layoff, reduction of hours, etc.).

TONI KING is an author and columnist on Medicare and health insurance issues. She spent more than 27 years as a top sales leader in the fields. For answers to Medicare questions, visit www.tonisays.com, email info@tonisays.com, or call 832-519-8664.

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