Step One: Your Medicare Card
We know what you might be thinking when you see your Medicare card for the first time. There it is, in unmistakable words: Your Name on a Medicare card! If you react by screaming in protest, “How did this happen? Me, turning 65!” you are not alone. And if you are looking up to the sky and crying out to your higher power, “This must be a mistake,” then once again, join the club.
Take comfort in knowing that the club is a big one. For instance, Maureen McCormick is a new 65 club member. Yes, that Maureen McCormick. “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha,” from the Brady Bunch is turning 65. Other new 65 club members include Tom Hanks (wasn’t he around 12 in Big?); Steve Harvey, Bob Saget, Joe Montana, Larry Bird, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Kenny G (who probably signed up for Plan G).
And, for us guys, our number one crush Bo Derek “The Perfect 10” is turning 65 and if that doesn’t turn your letters, Vanna White is 65, too.
We can feel younger ourselves, knowing that some of the celebrities that turned 65 in the past year and went on Medicare just like us include Oprah, Bruce Willis, Denzel Washington, Jerry Seinfeld, John Travolta, and “who can believe it” Kim Bassinger (67), Rene Russo (66), and
Linda Carter (70). Yes, Wonder Woman is turning 70 this year.
By the way, in writing this, I have a Medicare card too.
How Do I Get My Medicare Card?
It might have already come in the mail without your even asking for it: YOUR MEDICARE CARD. If you are taking Social Security, the government sends your Medicare Card to you automatically. It will come in an envelope from the Center for Medicare Services (CMS)
around three months before the month in which you turn 65. This red, white, and blue card has three critical pieces of information on it:
1. Your Name: This will usually have your first name, last name, and middle initial, but your name does not always include the initial. If Medicare put your first name on your card as Maximilian, but you’re not a fan and prefer just plain Max, unfortunately, you’re stuck. Where your Medicare coverage is concerned, you are Maximilian from now on unless you can convince CMS to send you a new card showing you as Max. And good luck with that.
2. Your Medicare Number: Your number will have exactly 11 characters in it with a combination of letters and numbers, always starting with a number and then a letter. For instance, it may start with “3W.” People will often get a letter from Medicare before their Medicare card arrives with a Bin Number on top. They often see this number and excitedly think it is their Medicare number. It is not. A Bin Number has only numbers and no letters; actual Medicare numbers always have both.
3. Your Part A and Part B Start Dates: Remember, Part A is mainly Hospital Coverage and Part B is doctors, lab tests, and most other medical needs. The start dates will always be on the 1st of a month, usually the one in which you turn 65. Part A and Part B start dates are not always coincided in the same month, so don’t be concerned if you have two different start dates.
If you are not taking social security, then you will need to apply for your Medicare number and card. We will discuss the hows and the wherefores of that later in this section.
When To Apply for Your Medicare Card
Let us start by talking about a Magic Date. For most people, this date is the first day of the month in which you are going to turn 65. That is the day on which your Medicare coverage begins. Everyone starts on the first day of a month, no matter what their birthday is. So if your 65th birthday is April 25th, your Medicare start date will be April 1st.
There is an interesting exception. If your birthday falls on the first day of a month, then your Medicare starts on the first day of the previous month. So if your birthday is April 1, you get to begin your Medicare benefits on March 1. The government made this exception for birthdays
that fall on the first day of a month for a very good reason. The reason, however, is top secret classified, so nobody knows what it is. I have it on good authority though that it is just to confuse us all about Medicare’s crazy rules a little more.
Everyone gets a seven-month window to enroll for Medicare called their Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) that begins on the first of the month that is three months before your birth month. So, for instance, if your birthday is anytime in April (other than April 1st of course) then your
signup period will begin three months before April 1st , January 1st. Homework time: Grab your calendar and calculate when your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) starts.
Whichever day is the first day of the month that is three months before your birthday is the day you can start enrolling into a Medicare plan. You might think of that day as being your “THE SOONER YOU ENROLL THE BETTER” date.
As was mentioned, your IEP lasts for 7 months, which includes the three months prior to your birth month, your birth month, and the three months following your birth month. If you do not apply during this 7-month IEP period then (unless you are entitled to a deferral) the door will
slam shut. With your IEP period over, you won’t get a fresh opportunity to sign up for Medicare until Open Enrollment that runs from January to March each year. If you need to use the Open Enrollment Period to sign up for Medicare, your start date won’t be until July 1st of that year.
Missing your enrollment period will also subject you to both Part B and Part D penalties which we will talk about later.
Important to Note: If you have group health coverage or Veterans Insurance then you can defer your Medicare start date without penalty.
The reason why THE SOONER YOU APPLY THE BETTER is because of something that you have probably experienced firsthand hundreds of times in being alive for almost 65 years: Stuff Happens. And when the government is involved, stuff happens a lot. It usually takes only a few weeks to get your Medicare number, but there have been numerous times in which I’ve seen glitches take place such as the government getting your name wrong and can’t find you, or needing to confirm something minor. And sometimes a tiny glitch needing clearing up can take months to resolve. That is where APPLY AS SOON AS POSSIBLE comes in.
As long as you apply before the first of your birth month, then your Part A and Part B will both start on the first day of your birth month. However, if you wait until the last minute, such as by applying on March 25h for an April 1st start date, you won’t have your Medicare number in time to be able to start a Medicare Advantage plan or a Medigap supplement commencing with your birth month.
Important to Note: If you apply for Medicare during your birth month then your Medicare Part B won’t start until the month following. However, get ready for another crazy Medicare rule. If you apply for your Medicare card in the month following your birth month, then Part B won’t kick in until 2 months later. If you wait until the second or third month after your birth month then it won’t kick in until three months later.
Not being aware of this twist in the Medicare signup rules has left many people dangling without health coverage for a couple of months, anxiously waiting for their Part B to kick in so that they can begin a Medicare Advantage plan or other Medicare coverage. If you have a medical situation in those two months before your Medicare Part B kicks in and the Part B charges came to $100,000, then you would be responsible for the entirety of that $100,000. Worrying about this can cause a heart attack! Which, of course, you don’t want to have happen while you have no coverage. So, enough said. APPLY AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
I Take Social Security And I Didn’t Get My Medicare Card. Why Not?
If you are taking Social Security you should have received your Medicare card. Here is something that happens all of the time: With all the junk mail we get in turning 65, a good bonfire’s worth to be precise, people commonly think their Medicare card is just another piece of
junk mail and toss it out. When we get a credit card in the mail it is made of nice thick plastic and just from feeling the envelope, we know there’s a credit card in it. Our Medicare Card, which is tons more important than any credit card comes to us a thin piece of cardboard. It’s not even laminated unless we laminate it ourselves. But then, what can we expect from the government for $148.50 a month?
If you tossed your Medicare card out, laugh about it, because if that makes you a dummy there are plenty more dummies joining you. Your punishment is that you will need to telephone Medicare at 800-772-1213 to order a new card. And, be prepared for a long time on hold.
I’m Not Taking Social Security. How Do I Get My Medicare Card?
If you are not yet taking Social Security, no problem. You do not need to take Social security to have a Medicare Card. If you do take Social Security then your Part B payment will be taken out of your Social Security payment. If you are not taking Social security then Medicare will bill you the amount you owe. More about how they go about billing you in the section on Paying for Medicare.
SOMETHING TO PONDER: Given that the government has records on everything, including when we turn 65, you would think that they would send everyone a Medicare Card automatically whether you are taking Social Security benefits or not. But that would make too much sense and they don’t do this. Instead, you need to apply.
The simplest way to apply is much like the simplest way to do most things these days, by applying online. And, we’ll come to how to do that in a minute. First let’s talk about the second way to apply which is through an appointment with a Social Security Administrative representative (at the Center for Medicare Services) who can sign you up.
You will need an appointment to do a phone signup and here is a key piece of advice: SPECIFICALLY ASK FOR AN APPOINTMENT WITH A LOCAL REPRESENTATIVE who works in the Social security office closest to you. In the good old days before we all walked around with masks on our faces like bandits, you met with these people in their offices at the Social Security Administration center closest to you. For the time being, it is all done by telephone appointment.
Here is why you would want to have such an appointment and not signup online:
1.You have a special circumstance. The most common such circumstance is that you are older than 65 and outside of your IEP. This is usually because you were covered by group insurance which gave you a deferral and now you are ready to apply for Medicare. You will need to send someone additional paperwork to prove you had coverage. This proof is called “Evidence of Coverage.” More about this in the section on Group Insurance. I recommend you apply through an appointment as applying online often results in paperwork delays.
2. You are not USA-born and will need to send your naturalization papers to Medicare as part of your application. Note that even if you are a USA citizen and have a passport they are still going to want to see your original Naturalization certificate.
3. You are just plain confused, exasperated, frustrated, befuddled (you pick your word) by the Social Security (SSA.GOV) Medicare card online signup process and you feel more sure of what you are doing by talking to an actual human being. If this is the case and you got frustrated online you will be joining a club about the size of everyone who likes pizza. If you did however sign up online congratulate yourself for getting it done this way. You deserve a reward. How about pizza?
You will need to call the national number 800-772-1213 to make your appointment. Don’t get frustrated again. Remember that an hour or so on hold will result in hopefully 35 years of Medicare to follow. Also, remember to ask for an appointment with the local office.
Signing Up at SSA.GOV
On the SSA.gov website, you will see a button that says: Medicare Enrollment. You can’t miss it. The button has a picture of a happy couple on it who are happy because either: A) They’re happy people all of the time and isn’t that nice? or B) They’re doing their Medicare Enrollment and they are happy about it.
Scroll halfway down the page and you will see a Blue Button that says: APPLY FOR MEDICARE ONLY. Now you are hopefully off to the races with some paperwork to fill out including adding in information about your current group health coverage.
Note: You will likely be directed to go to your my Social Security page to do your enrollment there if you have set up a my Social Security page previously.
A My Social Security page by the way is like the Fort Knox of websites. On the site, you will see tax return and social security information that goes back years. This being the case, it's understandable that the government wants to make sure it’s you before letting you set up a my
Social Security page or in giving you access to the information once you do. If you do need to set up a my Social Security page be prepared to be asked questions including trick questions about credit cards you had or places you might have lived 30 years ago. Hopefully, you
remember where you lived in 1980. That was the year that John Lennon was killed while going out for a bagel. Has it really been 41 years?
You will also need to be emailed or texted a code every time you enter your my Social Security page.
I Clicked Submit. Where’s My Medicare Number?
It’s the government. Did you really expect to click “submit” and then get an email a minute later with your Medicare number in it? In this day-and-age where just about everything else we get online is instantaneous, well of course you did!
Your Medicare card should come in the mail within 3 weeks. Remember, a Medicare number has a total of 11 characters with a combination of letters and numbers. Any other number you might be sent beforehand such as a Bin Number is not a Medicare number.
TIP:You don’t have to wait for your card to come in the mail. 7-10 days after you apply you can go back to SSA.gov, click Medicare Enrollment and this time click “Check Application Status.”
You will be directed to create your my Social Security account where your Medicare number will be posted as soon as it is approved. Once you have your Medicare number you can then sign up for a Medicare plan with us.
I Have My Medicare Number. Now What?
Congratulations. You have now graduated to STEP TWO: This is the fun part, where we, as as healthcare agents, come in: Picking Out a Medicare Plan!
We’re ready to move onto that good stuff, Unless . . . A) You have a higher income (over $88,000 as a single filer or $176,000 filing jointly in which case you are IRMAA and we better discuss IRMMA first, or B) You are still on Group Health Insurance and wondering what to do about Medicare or how it fits in with group health or C) You are worried about the penalties you’ve heard Medicare can charge if you are not in compliance with their rules or A,B,C) Yes, sometime people have concerns with all three.