Medicare tip: Understanding your benefits

Published: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 2:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 2:29 p.m.

At age 65, and once you have worked and obtained 40 earnings credit quarters (approximately 10 years), you become eligible for premium-free Medicare Part A hospital coverage.

If you chose to begin receiving Social Security benefits before age 65, then you will automatically receive your Medicare ID card about three months before your 65th birthday.

If you have waited for full retirement age to apply for Social Security benefits, then you will need to contact the Social Security Administration and apply for a Medicare ID card about three months before your 65th birthday.

You can easily complete this process by phone or online at It’s a good idea to take a look at the Social Security website. You might be surprised what you can accomplish from the comfort of your home or office.

When your Medicare ID card arrives, it will state “Part A (Hospital Coverage)” and “Part B (Medical Coverage),” with an “Effective Date” for each type of insurance coverage.

If you already have alternate medical coverage through your or your spouse’s employer, then you may not need Part B (Medical Coverage) at this time. If this is the case, you can simply return the entire Medicare ID card to the Social Security Administration and request a new Medicare ID card with just Part A (Hospital Coverage).

Be sure to double-check with your Social Security benefits administrator to make sure that you do not have to take Part B when you turn 65.

In 2013, Part B coverage has a monthly premium cost of $104.90. That premium amount can change, and even increase, because it is based on your income. You are eligible to enroll three months before and up to three months after your birth month.

Please note that there is a penalty for not enrolling once you are eligible.

There are so many variables and exceptions to the rules and regulations of Medicare that it will greatly benefit you to contact a SHINE counselor once you receive your Medicare ID card.

Medicare Part D (Prescription Coverage) also has a penalty if you do not enroll during the same timeframe required for Part B, even if you are not currently taking any prescriptions. SHINE is an acronym for Serving Health Information Needs of Elders.

However, if you already have “creditable drug insurance coverage,” you may wait until you or your spouse stops working, at which time you then have 63 days to choose and enroll in a drug plan without a penalty.

If you ever move out of the insurance coverage area of a Medicare Advantage Plan or Part D drug plan, you also have a special enrollment period.

The Medicare open enrollment period runs from Oct. 15 until Dec. 7.

For more information regarding Medicare insurance and prescription drug coverage or if you want to schedule a SHINE presentation, call the Florida Elder Helpline at 800-963-5337.

Carol Clark is a SHINE counselor.

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