Critter Corner: Can I Delay Enrollment of Medicare if I Have Not Yet Claimed Social Security?

Dear Oakley,

I’m turning 65 and I have not yet claimed my Social Security benefits because I thought it would make good financial sense to wait. Can I choose to wait to enroll in Medicare as well?

Thanks!
Juana Waite


Dear Juana,

Unfortunately, if you are turning 65, you cannot wait to enroll in Medicare or you will be penalized. This applies for most of us, even those who are waiting until they are older to take their Social Security. The rules are slightly different if you’re covered by a group health plan through a job (yours or your spouse’s) when you reach 65. Click here for more details. Be sure to check with your benefits manager at work and/or contact Medicare to be sure.

40% of 65-year-olds are waiting to claim their Social Security benefits, according to Howard Gleckman in his recent Forbes article on this topic. However, if these people put off enrolling in Medicare, they will be penalized, as described in today’s article.

In 2018, about 760,000 seniors, or 1.4% of older adults paid penalties for waiting too long to sign up for Medicare. Much of the reason for this is that only people who already receive or have applied for Social Security benefits before turning 65 are notified by the federal government when they first become eligible for Medicare. Currently, there is no requirement that either the Social Security Administration or the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services notify people to apply for Medicare if they have not yet applied for Social Security.

So, for those who delay Social Security, without the notice they may inadvertently forget to enroll in Medicare and will unfortunately face penalties until they do.

A New Bill Has Been Introduced to Notify Individuals and Simplify Processes

H.R. 2477, the “Beneficiary Enrollment Notification and Eligibility Simplification (BENES) Act” was introduced to congress this week. The goal of the bill is “to notify individuals approaching Medicare eligibility, to simplify and modernize the eligibility enrollment process, and for other purposes.” The BENES Act would update the enrollment process for the first time in 50 years, making it easier for beneficiaries to understand and navigate.

This Was Never a Problem in the Past

Historically, the eligibility age for both Medicare and Social Security was 65. This made the linkage between the programs’ beneficiary notification systems less problematic than it is now that the ages are no longer aligned. Hopefully, the Bill described above will become a law in the not-so-distant future and individuals who opted to not take Social Security (along with the others) will be notified/reminded about the requirement to apply for Medicare when they turn 65 to avoid penalties.

Hope this is helpful,

Oakley

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