Q. My mother is eligible for Medicare but did not sign up when she was supposed to. What does she need to do to get into Medicare now?
A. She can sign up during the next general enrollment period, which runs from January 1 through March 31 every year. Her coverage will begin on July 1. She should call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 to enroll. Because she has delayed enrolling, a late penalty may be added to her Part B premiums.
The Part B late penalty amounts to an extra 10 percent—permanently added to the monthly Part B premiums—for each full 12-month period that enrollment was delayed. So, for example, a delay of five years would raise the premiums for Part B (which covers doctors’ visits, outpatient care and medical supplies) by 50 percent for all future years that your mother is in the program.
In addition, she might pay more for Part D drug coverage, which has a separate late penalty.
Note, though, that if your mother was covered by health insurance from an employer for whom she or her spouse actively worked at any time after she turned 65, those months would not count toward the Part B penalty. In fact, when this employment ends, she’d be entitled to an immediate special enrollment period to sign up for Part B without penalty. (For more details, see “Medicare When Working Beyond 65."
Also, if your mother’s income is low, she may qualify for state assistance in paying her Part B premiums and would not then be liable for late penalties. (For details, see “Getting Help to Pay Part B Premiums." If she qualifies for low-cost prescription drug coverage under the Extra Help program, any Part D late penalties would also be waived.
Patricia Barry is a senior editor for AARP Integrated Media and the author of “Medicare For Dummies” (Wiley/AARP, October 2013)