Medicare Part B covers your medical insurance when you have Medicare
For most people, the first chance to enroll in Part B is their Initial Enrollment Period ; this is a seven-month period around the month they turn 65
If you’re working and have coverage through an employer when you turn 65, you may be able to delay enrollment. When that coverage ends, you can then enroll in Medicare during a Special Enrollment Period .
Medicare Part B enrollment brings with it some pretty impressive healthcare benefits — but only if you’re signed up. While many people think they’re automatically enrolled in Medicare, that isn’t always the case. Getting this detail wrong can not only leave you without coverage, but it can force you to pay more for your coverage when you do sign up.
Have you or a loved one ever asked, “How do I sign up for Medicare Part B?” If so, here’s what you need to know about Medicare Part B enrollment.
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In most cases, your first chance to apply for Medicare Part B enrollment begins three full calendar months before you turn 65. This is known as your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP), and it’s the first of several designated times when you can add Part B coverage. If you miss your IEP, or want to change, drop or add your coverage later, there are a few other Medicare enrollment periods to know about (more on that below).
While Medicare provides several Medicare Part B enrollment opportunities, signing up during your IEP can pay off — literally. If you don’t apply when you’re first eligible, your Part B premium can go up 10% for every 12-month period you were eligible for Part B but didn’t enroll. The Part B enrollment penalty doesn’t have an expiration date; you’ll pay the increased premium amount as long as you have Part B coverage.
Who Is Eligible for Medicare Part B Enrollment?
Original Medicare (Parts A and B) is federally funded health insurance. And as with Part A, Medicare Part B eligibility is extended to all legal U.S. citizens age 65 and older. That means residents in all 50 states and Washington D.C. are eligible for Medicare benefits.
In some circumstances, you may be eligible for Medicare if you’re younger than 65. If you’ve received benefits for 24 months from either Social Security (disability-based) or the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), you may be enrolled in Medicare before 65. People living with severe health conditions or illnesses may also be eligible for Medicare Part B enrollment before 65, including those living with either of the following:
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s Disease
- End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD)
Do I Have to Apply for Medicare Part B if I’m Still Working?
No, there are certain circumstances when you may be able to delay your Medicare Part B enrollment. If you’re still receiving health insurance from your employer when you turn 65, you can often put off your enrollment until you no longer have group coverage. When that happens, an eight-month Special Enrollment Period will open, and you can sign up for Part B without penalty.
Your decision on whether or not to enroll in Medicare when you have employer coverage will need to come down to the size of your employer, as smaller companies may receive help from Medicare to cover your health insurance benefits.
Here’s how it works:
- If your company has 20 or more employees: Larger companies are typically the “primary payer” on coverage for workers who are 65 or older. This leaves Medicare Part B as the “secondary payer.” In this case, you may be able to delay your Part B enrollment.
- If your company has fewer than 20 employees: Medicare will typically be the primary payer for your health care. This helps relieve some of the cost burdens for smaller companies. In this case, enrolling in Medicare Part B on top of your group coverage may make sense.
As we’ve pointed out, there are circumstances in which you may need to add Part B coverage separately. For example, if you’re working for a company with more than 20 employees, you may want to enroll in Medicare Part A when you turn 65, but not Part B.
But do you know how to apply for Medicare Part B when you are ready?
Medicare enrollment is handled by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Whether you’re looking to enroll in Medicare when you turn 65, or you need to add Part B later, there are several ways to sign up for your benefits.
- Visit a local SSA office
- Over the phone at 1-800-772-1213
- Online at ssa.gov
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Figuring out when to sign up for Medicare Part B is just as important as learning how. When planning, keep in mind there are typically three main times when you can enroll in Medicare Part B. Two of them, the Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) and Special Enrollment Periods (SEP), are specific to your situation. The third option, the General Enrollment Period, is the same for everyone and is built into the annual Medicare calendar. Here’s an overview of how they work:
- Initial Enrollment Period (IEP): your first chance to enroll in Medicare; the seven-month IEP includes your birth month, plus three months before and after. However, if you were born on the first of the month, then your IEP starts four calendar months before the month you turn 65 and closes two calendar months after. If you enroll during your IEP, you won’t pay an enrollment penalty.
- General Enrollment Period (GEP): this is your chance to enroll if you missed your IEP. The GEP is held each year from January 1 to March 31. Plans purchased during the GEP begin the first of the following month.
- Special Enrollment Period (SEP): an enrollment period that’s granted by Medicare for certain life events. This generally includes losing employer health coverage. If you qualify for a SEP when you lose other coverage, an eight-month enrollment period will open when that coverage ends. You can choose a Part B plan without penalty during the SEP.
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Yes, you can apply for Medicare Part B online. You can fill out your Medicare Part B application on the SSA website, or you can print off your Medicare Part B forms to fill out by hand. If you print your forms, you can mail your Medicare Part B application in, or deliver it to a local office in person.
When it comes to interacting with your coverage online, Medicare Part B enrollment is just the beginning. Once you’re signed up you can review your benefits, request duplicate Medicare ID cards and more. You can even see your doctor or provider remotely with a telehealth visit for certain conditions or illnesses — all online.
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There’s a lot more to learn before you jump into Medicare Part B enrollment. You’ll want to know what it covers and what it doesn’t. And while many people mistakenly think all Medicare is provided at no cost, there are several charges you’ll need to account for when looking at your options.
What Does Medicare Part B Cover Exactly?
Medicare Part B provides the medical coverage portion of Original Medicare (Parts A and B). For Medicare Part B to help cover your care, it must be deemed medically necessary by a Medicare-approved doctor or provider. Preventive services, on the other hand, are typically covered fully by Medicare Part B.
How Much Does Medicare Part B Cost?
Looking to budget for Medicare Part B? There are several costs to consider, including your premium, deductible and coinsurance, and the pricing changes each year. For 2024, the Part B monthly premium is $174.70. Medicare generally pays 80% of your approved costs, but you’ll need to meet your annual deductible before Medicare covers its portion of your care. In 2024, the deductible is $240.