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Ask the Expert: Medicare and Social Security have different deadlines

My wife will soon turn 65. She's still working and won't yet apply for Social Security. She's now covered under my medical benefits, but we've been told that she must apply for Medicare because her current coverage will become secondary when she turns 65. How does she pay the Medicare Part B monthly premium, since it won't be deducted from a Social Security benefit check?

When she telephones Medicare to enroll, she can arrange to pay quarterly or monthly bills by check, or to set up automatic payments from her bank account.

Years ago, everyone reached Medicare eligibility and Social Security full retirement age (or FRA) at 65. Not anymore. Medicare eligibility still begins at 65. But Social Security FRA is now 66 or older, depending on your birth year. Their very different rules create a dangerous pitfall: Social Security rewards late enrollment. If you delay your Social Security application, you get a bigger benefit. But Medicare penalizes late enrollment. If you miss your sign-up deadline, your premium is permanently higher — and you may be uninsured for months.

If you'll soon turn 65 and you're covered by an employer or former employer's health plan, double-check its rules. Typically, plans sponsored by companies with fewer than 20 employees become secondary to Medicare for participants turning 65. So do plans covering retired employees. Those participants have a six-month window to enroll in Medicare — from three months before their 65th birthday to three months after it. By contrast, people who are insured by an employer with 20 or more workers usually don’t need to sign up for Medicare until eight months after their job or their coverage ends, whichever comes first.


Many people must enroll in Medicare when they turn 65 even if they postpone taking Social Security.


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