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AARP Bulletin

Medicare Starter Kit

Enrolling at the Right Time

Meet your enrollment deadline to avoid consequences

Signing up for drug coverage

If you have drug coverage that is "creditable" — meaning that Medicare considers it of at least equal value to Part D — you don't need Part D when you turn 65. Your current insurance plan is required by law to tell you whether it's creditable or not.

If you lose creditable coverage — whether it's from a current or former employer, union, COBRA, Veterans Affairs or the military's TriCare-for-Life system — you'll have a two-month period to enroll in a Part D plan without penalty. But if you voluntarily drop such coverage after your individual enrollment period expired, you must wait until open enrollment (Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 each year) to sign up for Part D.

You also get a special period to enroll in a Part D drug plan without penalty if you do so within two months of returning to the United States after living abroad, or within two months of being released from prison.

Missing your enrollment deadline means:

  • Being able to enroll in Part B only during a general enrollment period, which runs from Jan. 1 to March 31 each year, with coverage that doesn't begin until July 1 of the same year.

  • Paying a late penalty of an extra 10 percent permanently added to your Part B premiums for each 12-month period you delayed. For example, if you delayed five years, your premiums would cost 50 percent more for the same coverage for as long as you're in Medicare.

  • Being able to enroll in Part D only during open enrollment from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 each year, with coverage beginning Jan. 1.

  • Paying a late penalty permanently added to your Part D premiums for every month that you did not have creditable drug coverage since turning 65.

Some exceptions: If you qualify for Extra Help under Part D or have your Part B premiums paid by your state under a Medicare Savings Program, you won't pay late penalties. If you have Medicare due to disability, any late penalty you incur will cease when you reach 65 and become entitled to Medicare based on your age.

How to enroll

To sign up for Part A or B, call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 and make an appointment for an interview, which can be done on the phone or at your local Social Security office. If English is not your first language, you can request an interpreter at no charge.

To sign up for a Part D drug plan or Medicare Advantage plan, you must choose between the options available in your area. (See section "Figuring Out Your Choices.")

Next: What are your choices? »

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