Brenner answers questions about all aspects of family finance.
My husband turned 65 in June. The Social Security Administration told him he doesn't have to apply for Medicare if he has health insurance. He's currently covered by my employee health insurance, and I'll be working several more years. But I'm concerned he may have to pay a penalty if he waits until I retire to apply for Medicare. Was he given incorrect advice?
Not necessarily. The correct advice depends on the number of people working for the employer whose plan currently covers him.
When you're covered through an employer with 20 or more workers for whom you or your spouse is actively working, that coverage remains primary, even after you turn 65. If that's your husband's situation, he got the right advice.
His Medicare enrollment deadline is eight months after his current coverage ends or you leave your job, whichever comes first. But in most cases, if you're insured by an employer with fewer than 20 workers for whom you or your spouse is actively working, that coverage becomes secondary to Medicare when you turn 65, and your Medicare enrollment deadline is three months after you turn 65.
Those who can show they delayed their application because they were misinformed by a government official can appeal for, and receive, "equitable relief" -- retroactive, penalty-free Medicare coverage. Otherwise, missing your Medicare enrollment deadline can have dire consequences. Each year of delay permanently increases your Part B premiums by 10 percent. A delay also can leave you temporarily uninsured. If you miss your original deadline, your next opportunity to sign up for Medicare is during annual general enrollment. That's between Jan. 1 and March 31 for coverage that doesn't start until July 1.
The bottom line Don't take your Medicare enrollment deadline for granted. Double check it.