Q: I get my Medicare health plan under my wife’s company insurance. My wife is not on Medicare yet, she also gets her health insurance through her former employer. We are both retired and live on a fixed income. When does she need to enroll in Medicare?
A: Before we get into the rules for your wife, let’s double-check your situation. If your wife recently stopped working, you should check your enrollment in Medicare Part B right away (unless you have already done so) in order to avoid a Part B late enrollment penalty.
If you didn’t sign up with Medicare for Part A and/or Part B when you first turned 65, because you were covered by your own or your wife’s company’s plan, you may need to sign up during the 8-month period that began after your wife’s employment ended in order to avoid a late enrollment penalty.
If you miss this 8-month Special Enrollment period, you can sign up January 1 – March 31, during the Medicare General Enrollment period. Your coverage, however, won’t begin until July 1. In addition, you may have to pay a higher premium for late enrollment.
Late enrollment penalties are not like one-time tax penalties. Under the late enrollment penalty your monthly Part B premium may go up 10% for each full 12-month period that you delayed enrollment, and you pay the higher premiums for the rest of the time you receive Medicare.
Your wife can sign up, when she’s first eligible, during the 7-month period that begins 3 months before the month she turns 65 and ends 3 months after the month she turns 65.
Call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 for more information about your Medicare eligibility and to sign up for Part A and/or Part B. You can also apply at www.socialsecurity.gov/retirement. You can get free personalized heath insurance counseling from your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). Many of these programs operate through area agencies on aging. Check your local phone book or call the Eldercare Locator 1-800-677-1116 to find help in your community.