Q & A
Should I sign up for Medicare even though I’m not getting Social Security until I’m 66?
Complete Question: I do not want to get Social Security until I’m 66 so I can get my full benefit amount. I will be 64 next month. I planned on working until the age of 66, but my employer recently started a new policy of forced retirement after 20 years of service, which I will reach in March of this year. Luckily, as part of the retirement package, I will get 1 year severance pay, which includes health insurance coverage. That means I will be able to continue with my plan to wait until age 66 to receive Social Security and I will have health coverage through my 65th birthday. But I was wondering what happens when my insurance coverage ends next March and I haven’t signed up for Social Security yet. Am I eligible for Medicare? Do I have to get my Social Security benefits in order to get Medicare? There’s got to be a way around that.
Answer: That’s great that you will receive a severance package that includes a year of health insurance through your 65th birthday. You absolutely do not have to receive Social Security benefits in order to receive Medicare. You do need to be eligible for benefits to receive Medicare, but it sounds to me like you already know you are eligible.
As for signing up for Medicare, many people are automatically enrolled. The major difference with you waiting until age 66 to sign up for Social Security benefits is that your Medicare enrollment is not automatic. Therefore, you have to make sure and sign up. The initial enrollment period is 7 months long, starting three months before your 65th birthday and continuing through three months after your birthday. This means that, for you, your initial enrollment period will be from November, 2015 through May, 2016. This does not mean you should wait until May, though. You are eligible for Medicare in February, 2016 and your employer coverage will end in March, 2016. Typically, when you are enrolled in an employer health plan you will have a special enrollment period. This may not apply to you, though, because the special enrollment period does not apply to COBRA coverage – it typically applies to the date you left your employer. Long story short, you should go ahead and apply for Medicare during the three month period before your 65th birthday and request a start date of April 1, 2016 (tell them that’s when your current coverage ends) so that you do not have a lapse in coverage. If you wait and the special enrollment period does not apply to you, you could be subject to a late enrollment period and your coverage may start as late as July 1, 2016.
Regardless of when you sign up for and start Medicare coverage, remember that you do not have to start receiving your Social Security benefits until you are ready.