Have Private Insurance and Are Turning 65? You Need to Sign Up for Medicare Part B

If you are paying for your own insurance- you may think you do not need to sign up for Medicare when you turn 65. However- not signing up for Medicare Part B right away can cost you down the road.

You can first sign up for Medicare during your Initial Enrollment Period- which is the seven-month period that includes the three months before the month you become eligible (usually age 65)- the month you are eligible and three months after the month you become eligible. If you do not sign up for Part B right away- you will be subject to a penalty. Your Medicare Part B premium may go up 10 percent for each 12-month period that you could have had Medicare Part B- but did not take it. In addition- you will have to wait for the general enrollment period to enroll. The general enrollment period usually runs between January 1 and March 31 of each year.

There are exceptions to the penalty if you have insurance through an employer or through your spouse’s employer- but there is no exception for private insurance. The health insurance must be from an employer where you or your spouse actively works- and even then- if the employer has fewer than 20 employees- you will likely have to sign up for Part B.

If you don’t have an employer or union group health insurance plan- or that plan is secondary to Medicare- it is extremely important to sign up for Medicare Part B during your initial enrollment period. Note that COBRA coverage does not count as a health insurance plan for Medicare purposes. Neither does retiree coverage or VA benefits.

For further reading, see this New York Times column about a man with private insurance who didn’t realize he needed to sign up for Part B.