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Long Island

Confusing Social Security and Medicare could be costly

One is a retirement benefit; the other a medical plan

I’ll be 65 very soon. I have health benefits at work, along with many employees. I won’t retire for two or three years. Do I have to apply for Social Security? I’m told I have up to eight months after I retire to apply. But someone else said I should apply for Part A. I know the wrong advice can cost me. What should I do?

It sounds as if you’re confusing Social Security and Medicare, which have very different rules.

You can apply for Social Security retirement benefits anytime after turning 62. Applicants who are under their full retirement age (which is 66 for everyone born between 1943 and 1954) get a discounted benefit. People who postpone their application until after their full retirement age receive an enhanced benefit.

Medicare eligibility starts at 65 — and Medicare has specific enrollment windows based on job-related coverage. If you enroll outside your window, you pay higher premiums.

If you’re covered through active work for an employer with fewer than 20 employees, your Medicare enrollment window opens three months before you turn 65 and closes three months after your 65th birthday. (That’s when your workplace coverage becomes secondary to Medicare.) But it sounds as if you’re insured by an employer with 20 or more workers. In that case, your workplace coverage remains primary even after 65. Your Medicare enrollment window won’t close until eight months after your job or your job-related coverage ends, whichever comes first.

At 65, you’ll automatically qualify for Medicare. But there’s no reason to pay for Medicare as long as your workplace coverage is primary. You can certainly sign up for Medicare Part A (hospital coverage), which is free. But you won’t be penalized if you don’t.

THE BOTTOM LINE Medicare and Social Security have different rules.

MORE INFORMATION

ssa.gov/retire

medicare.gov

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