Do I have to take Medicare?

Freebird7397 asked...

I am a widow and on disability. I get a disability check and a Social Security widows' benefits check. I am turning 65 in 2009 and want to know if I have to have Medicare? I have no dependents.

Expert Answer

You don't have to participate in Medicare if you don't want to. But unless you have good free or very low-cost health insurance coverage through your or your husband's former employment, it's probably a very good idea to have both Medicare Part A hospital insurance and Medicare Part B medical insurance once you turn 65. Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage is less important to enroll in immediately, especially if you don't regularly take prescription medicine. However, there's a financial penalty if you don't enroll in a Part D program when you first turn 65 but do so more than six months later.

Medicare Part A can protect you against most of the enormous cost of being hospitalized, which is something that becomes more and more likely as we get older. And since you're eligible for Social Security survivors benefits, Medicare Part A is free for you, so there's no reason not to have it. Because you already receive Social Security benefits, you will be automatically enrolled in Part A within three months of your 65th birthday.

When you turn 65, you will also be automatically enrolled in Medicare Part B, which would cost you $96.40 a month. For this monthly premium, Part B covers 80 percent (and sometimes more) of the cost of most services you receive from almost any doctor, in the hospital or out, as well as all kinds of other outpatient medical care such as laboratory tests, x-rays, physical therapy, preventive screening exams, home health care, medical equipment and supplies. If you're in good health, you might be able to spend less than the Part B monthly fee for awhile, by using drop-in clinics and the like. But at some point you're likely to need more extensive medical care, and when you do, the Part B premium will seem like a great bargain.

If you decide you don't want to pay for Part B right away, you have to indicate that on the form Social Security will send you when it notifies you, near your 65th birthday, that you've been automatically enrolled. If you choose not to enroll in Medicare Part B when you're first eligible for it but later decide you want it, you'll only be able to enroll in it during an open enrollment period in the first three months of each year. Your coverage would begin on July 1 of that year. For every year after age 65 that you delayed enrolling in Part B, however, your monthly premium will be 10 percent higher.