Signing up for Medicare at 65 not mandatory


POSTED: Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Question: Is it mandatory for a senior who turns 65 years of age to enroll in Medicare? Personally, I choose not to enroll and I am curious if that is possible. I have asked people at the Social Security office, who say it is not mandatory, but friends of mine who are seniors say it is.

Answer: It's not mandatory, but depending on your situation, you might want to reconsider your decision.

Especially since you've probably paid into the hospital insurance side of the plan.

Medicare, the federal health insurance program for people age 65 or older, is financed in part by taxes paid by employees and employers, and in part by monthly premiums deducted from Social Security checks.

“;You don't want (your decision) to come back and bite you later on,”; said Jane Burigsay, spokeswoman for the Hawaii region of the Social Security Administration.

“;I tell people it's not mandatory, but, at the same time, you would have to do your homework to make sure”; that whatever health insurance you currently have does not require you to enroll in Medicare, she said.

Burigsay also said there's “;a little bit of confusion”; about whether people need to sign up for Medicare at age 65 because many are continuing to work beyond that birthday, which once was the retirement age to begin receiving full Social Security benefits.

Some people who are continuing to work past 65 think they don't have to file for Medicare if they want it, but most do, Burigsay said.

People already receiving Social Security benefits for whatever reason will automatically be enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B at age 65.

Part A is hospital insurance, which is free, and helps pay for hospital and skilled nursing-home care, some home health care and hospice care. Part B is medical insurance, which helps pay doctor bills and other medical services not covered by Part A, and which involves a monthly premium, currently $96.40.

Because Part B involves a charge, you have the option of refusing that coverage.

Many times, people get confused about whether they should sign up for Part B, Burigsay said. It really depends on the individual's situation and is looked at case by case, she said.

If you are not already receiving Social Security benefits, you are advised to call the Social Security Administration at (800) 772-1213 three months prior to your 65th birthday to discuss whether you should sign up for Medicare.

You then can apply by calling the same number. You will be given an appointment to go to your nearest Social Security office and advised on what to bring.

Burigsay the initial enrollment period extends to three months following the 65th birthday.

If you don't file within the specified period, you may end up with a penalty, especially regarding Part B, she said.

“;So people should educate themselves as to whether they should file for Medicare and our Web site—socialsecurity.gov—is a good place to start,”; she said. Just click on “;Medicare”; on the top right side of the Web page.