We know enrollment in Medicare is confusing and a bit intimidating. Making a mistake in your initial enrollment in the program can be a serious mistake that has lasting consequences.
We recommend getting started in your Medicare enrollment a little early to avoid the potential of missed deadlines. Below is an outline of some steps you can take to help ensure the enrollment process goes smoothly.
1. Enrolling in Original Medicare
When it comes to enrollment in the government Medicare program (Medicare Parts A and B), you should first determine if you will be automatically enrolled. If you are already receiving Social Security benefits then you will be automatically enrolled in Medicare for the 1st of the month in which you turn 65. Assuming you intend to accept Medicare as your health insurance coverage, you can simply wait for your Medicare card in the mail. It usually arrives about 4 months early. If you want to opt-out of the program, then you can return a form that is mailed from Social Security when they are announcing your upcoming enrollment.
If you are not receiving Social Security benefits, then you will need to actively enroll in Medicare. If the timing coincides with your 65th birthday, then we recommend starting your enrollment on the early side of your enrollment window. In other words, start enrolling in Medicare 2 or 3 months before your 65th birthday. Procrastination can result in a delayed Medicare start date. You are allowed to enroll in Medicare up to 3 months after your 65th birthday, but keep in mind there will be a delayed start date that can result in a gap in coverage if you wait.
Some people delay their Medicare enrollment because they are still working and receiving employer benefits. If this is your situation, then you can choose to enroll in Medicare when you retire (ie, when you leave your employer plan). If this sounds like your situation, then we definitely recommend starting the Medicare enrollment process a few months before your desired effective date. Enrollment in Medicare for this type of situation usually requires an additional form signed by your employer stating that you had a "creditable" insurance plan in place prior to Medicare enrollment. You can contact your local Social Security office to get the form or find it online.
By starting your enrollment a few months early, you are giving yourself time to make sure everything is set up correctly as well as allowing yourself time to fix any unforeseen errors.
2. Enrolling in Medigap, Part D, or Medicare Advantage plans
Enrollment in Medicare plans like Medigap, Part D, and Medicare Advantage is usually very efficient and can happen instantly in some cases. The plans are offered by private insurance companies and there is generally not a long waiting period before approval. We routinely use electronic enrollments over the phone and achieve plan approvals in as fast as 1 day.
The exception is if you are applying for a Medicare plan that requires medical underwriting. If your plan requires medical underwriting, then be sure to allow between 2 and 6 weeks for the process. We've seen cases when an insurance carrier requests medical records from a doctor's office and inefficiency ensues. Keep in mind that underwriting is only required if you are joining a Medigap plan outside of one of your guaranteed issue enrollment windows.
In summary, be sure to start your enrollment in Medicare about 2 months early to allow yourself time. It also helps to have a proven professional by your side that can help guide you through the process.