If you are turning 65 or you are 65 + and retiring from your place of employment and losing your group coverage, you have 90 days prior to the qualifying event (e.g. your birthday or the date of losing your coverage) and 90 days after the qualifying event to sign up for either a Medicare Advantage or Medicare Supplement plan as guaranteed issue policies.

If you miss this window, you will have to wait until the next open enrollment period for Medicare Advantage (which typically begins on October 15).  Or you can sign up for a Medicare Supplement plan, but you will go through medical underwriting and could be declined or rated up.

Prior to purchasing a Medicare Advantage or Medicare Supplement plan, you must sign up for Medicare Part B.  You can do this online at Medicare.gov (it takes about thirty minutes) or you can go to your local Social Security office and do it in person.

Here’s the thing:  it can take the government up to two months to process your Part B and issue your Medicare card showing you have coverage for Part A and B.  We always advise our clients to sign up for Medicare Part B sixty days prior to their retiring or turning 65 so there is no gap in coverage between your existing plan and your new Medicare plan.

If you are leaving your employer, you can use COBRA benefits for up to eighteen months; however, you will find COBRA is far more expensive than a Medicare Supplement or Medicare Advantage plan.

When choosing a Medicare plan, the smart move is to use a CMS- and AHIP-certified, licensed Medicare agent or broker who can explain all your options as well as the differences in coverage, cost and providers.  There are significant differences between Medicare Supplement and Medicare Advantage plans, and you need to understand them clearly before making a choice.

Here’s the good news.  There is no cost associated with using a CMS- and AHIP-certified, licensed broker and agent.  The price is the same whether you buy it yourself or use a broker/agent, but the difference in making an informed decision can be significant.

Cary Hall

America’s Healthcare Advocate