Q & A
Ask Rusty – Can I get Medicare without claiming Social Security?
Dear Rusty: I am 63 and my full retirement age is 66 and 2 months. I want to try and hold out to 70 before I start collecting SS. My 2018 Social Security statement said I’m eligible to apply for Medicare at 65. Do I have to be receiving Social Security payments before I can be covered for Medicare? Or can I be covered beginning at 65 and not receive a Social Security check until I desire at 70? Signed: Approaching Medicare Age
Dear Approaching: You can do just as you wish – you can enroll in Medicare at age 65 without claiming Social Security until you are 70. If you wait until you are 70 to claim Social Security your benefit amount will be nearly 31% higher than it would be at your full retirement age of 66 + 2 months.
As you approach age 65 you should enroll in Medicare sometime during the 7-month window called your “initial enrollment period”, which starts 3 months before the month you turn 65 and ends 3 months after the month you turn 65. If you want your Medicare coverage to start on the first day of the month you turn 65, then you should enroll no later than one month prior to the month you turn 65; if you wait past that, the start of your Medicare coverage will be delayed. Note than while Medicare Part A (hospitalization coverage) is free for those who have earned at least 40 credits for Social Security eligibility, there is a premium for Medicare Part B (doctors and outpatient services). The base 2019 Part B monthly premium amount is $135.50 (may be more for higher incomes). If you are still working and have “creditable” healthcare coverage from your employer, you can choose to decline Medicare Part B coverage without risking a late enrollment penalty to get Part B after your employer coverage stops. If you want to decline Part B you can do so during the Medicare application process when you enroll in Part A.
You should also consider your prescription drug coverage needs once you’re eligible for Medicare. If you do not have “creditable” prescription drug coverage when you turn 65, you will be subject to a late enrollment penalty if you purchase a drug plan later. Although prescription drug plans are referred to as “Medicare Part D”, this coverage is purchased from private providers either as an individual plan, or as part of a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan (VA drug coverage is also considered “creditable”).
Finally, if you aren’t collecting Social Security when you enroll in Medicare Part B, you will need to make separate arrangements to pay the Part B premium. This is quite easy to do in any of the following ways:
- Use your bank’s auto-pay function to automatically send payments to Medicare
- Use Medicare’s Easy-Pay option to have them automatically debit your bank account.
- Pay by check or money order via US Mail, using payment coupons Medicare will provide
- Pay by credit card, using the payment coupons Medicare provides (enter card info on the coupon and mail to Medicare).
I suggest that as you approach age 65 you consider contacting a licensed Medicare insurance agent to explore your options for covering the medical expenses which Medicare Parts A and B do not cover. A licensed Medicare Insurance agent can also help ensure you have prescription coverage.