Can you collect Social Security without being enrolled in Medicare? My husband will file for Social Security at 66 next year. Assuming he's still covered by my health insurance, which I get as an active school district employee, he's not required to enroll in Medicare. But if he must collect Social Security, can he just enroll in Medicare Part A, which is free?

He doesn't have to enroll in Medicare to collect Social Security, but he should sign up for Part A anyway. It might pay for some hospital services that aren't covered by your plan -- and as you say, it's "free."

You can collect Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62 and apply for survivor benefits as early as age 60. Unless you're disabled, you can't get Medicare benefits until age 65.

But unlike Social Security, Medicare has very specific enrollment windows -- and missing your deadline can result in permanently higher premiums or even up to six months without health insurance.

Here's a heads-up for anyone who's still covered by an employer's health plan at age 65: If you're covered by an employer with 20 or more workers for whom you or your spouse actively works, your Medicare enrollment deadline is eight months after the employer coverage ends, or you or your spouse leave the job, whichever comes first. (This sounds like your husband's situation.)

But if you're covered by an employer with fewer than 20 workers, when you turn 65 your coverage typically becomes secondary to Medicare -- and that means the insurer stops paying for health care services Medicare covers. Your enrollment window starts three months before your 65th birthday and ends three months after that birthday.

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THE BOTTOM LINE Don't take your Medicare enrollment deadline for granted. Double check it.


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