Millions of seniors get health coverage through Medicare, but the rules surrounding enrollment can be tricky.
Seniors generally get a seven-month window to enroll in Medicare. That window begins three months before the month of their 65th birthday and ends three months after that month. Those who don't sign up for Medicare during that initial window could face steep penalties for delaying their enrollment.
But come 2023, the rules are changing to help Medicare enrollees avoid a delay in health coverage, as well as the aforementioned penalty. And that's a very good thing.
Some beneficial changes
Seniors who sign up for Social Security prior to age 65 are automatically enrolled in Medicare once they become eligible. But those who don't claim their Social Security benefits early need to actively enroll in Medicare themselves. And the timing of enrollment can dictate when Medicare coverage begins.
Under the current rules, enrolling a month after reaching age 65 has meant a two-month delay in coverage. But that's problematic for those who find themselves without health insurance during that time. Meanwhile, enrolling in Medicare more than a month after turning 65 (but still within that seven-month initial enrollment window) has meant experiencing a three-month delay in coverage.
Beginning in 2023, seniors don't have to sweat the timing of their Medicare enrollment as much. That's because coverage will take effect a month after signing up — regardless of when that happens.
Furthermore, those who don't enroll in Medicare during their initial seven-month window usually need to wait until the program's general enrollment period kicks off during the first three months of the calendar year. And at that point, Medicare benefits don't kick in until July. For many, that means potentially going months without coverage.
Next year, those who sign up for Medicare during the general enrollment period will see their coverage start the month after they enroll — a vast improvement.
Certain seniors might avoid late enrollment penalties
Seniors who reach age 65 but are still covered by a group health plan aren't required to sign up for Medicare right away, and they can avoid being penalized for delaying their enrollment. But those who miss their initial enrollment window and don't have group health plan coverage face lifelong surcharges on their Medicare Part B premiums.
However, starting in 2023, some seniors will get more flexibility to sign up for Medicare outside that initial seven-month window without being penalized. This change will apply to enrollees with exceptional circumstances, which include having an employer that provided incorrect information on Medicare enrollment, or delaying enrollment due to having to deal with a natural disaster.
Making life easier for enrollees
Navigating Medicare enrollment can be a challenge for a lot of people. The fact that the rules are changing to provide swifter coverage upon enrollment and fewer penalties is a very positive shift. And ideally, these changes will ultimately end up being only two of many that come down the pike as lawmakers find ways to make Medicare more accessible and affordable for seniors.
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