1: When should you enroll in Part B?
The magic age is 65! Even if you haven’t retired yet, you need to sign up during a seven-month initial enrollment period, which begins three months before you turn 65 and concludes three months after your birthday month. An exception allowing the delay of enrollment is if you have health coverage beyond age 65 from an employer for which you (or your spouse) actively work, and the employer has 20 or more workers.
2: How long must you work to qualify for Medicare?
For Part A (hospitals), you don’t pay monthly premiums if you (or your spouse) paid sufficient Medicare payroll taxes while working. Otherwise, you can buy Part A services by paying monthly premiums.
Part B. (doctors’ services, outpatient care, medical equipment) you do not need to work to qualify.
Part D (prescription drugs), you do not need to work to qualify provided that you’re 65 or older, and a U.S. citizen or a legal resident who’s lived in the United States for at least five years.
3: What is open enrollment if I have seven months to enroll?
Medicare open enrollment (Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 each year) is only for people who are already in the program and want to change their coverage for the following year. If you are just turning 65 (or no longer obtaining health care through your employer), your enrollment period begins three months before your 65th birthday month and ends three months after. If you miss your personal deadlines because you’re waiting for open enrollment, you risk delayed coverage and permanent late penalties. (Different enrollment periods apply in some other situations — for people who qualify for Medicare due to disability, for example, or for legal immigrants.)
Caution! If you wait to sign up you may end up paying permanent late penalties.