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Apply for Medicare Without Claiming Social Security

By Emily Brandon, U.S. News & World Report

The Social Security full retirement age is 66 for most baby boomers, and you receive a smaller monthly payout if you sign up at a younger age. Some retirees further delay signing up in order to qualify for larger monthly payments later in retirement. However, the Medicare eligibility age remains 65. So, if you want to wait until 66 or later to claim Social Security, you will have to sign up for Medicare separately at age 65.

Here's what you need to know about signing up for Medicare before claiming Social Security:

• Social Security and Medicare are separate decisions.
• Some people are automatically enrolled in Medicare.
• Remember to sign up for Medicare on time.
• Signing up for Medicare after you missed the Initial Enrollment Period can trigger penalties.
• Beneficiaries who work can avoid the Medicare late enrollment penalty.
• Be prepared to get a bill.

Don't wait until age 65 to start researching your Medicare options.

Consider each of these strategies if you plan to enroll in Medicare while delaying claiming Social Security.

Social Security and Medicare are separate decisions. You don't need to sign up for both programs at the same time. "Most people take Social Security earlier than 65, but there's a penalty for that, and you get less per month if you start earlier," says Linda Fried, a medical doctor and professor of public health at Columbia University. For example, if you signed up for both Social Security and Medicare simultaneously in 2016 at age 65, you will only receive 93.3 percent of the Social Security benefit you have earned due to starting payments before your full retirement age of 66.

Some people are automatically enrolled in Medicare. Existing Social Security recipients are often automatically signed up for Medicare Part A and Part B, and the coverage begins the month they turn 65. A Medicare card generally arrives in the mail three months before your 65th birthday, and Medicare Part B premiums are withheld from your Social Security check. "People can [sign up for Social Security] as early as age 62. If they do so before the age of 65, they will be automatically enrolled in Medicare three months before they turn 65," says David Santana, a health insurance specialist for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. "They will receive a Welcome to Medicare package in the mail indicating they have been enrolled in Medicare Part A and B." However, if you want to delay signing up for Social Security until age 66 or later in order to get your full or an enhanced monthly payment, you will need to take action to sign up for Medicare.

Sign up for Medicare on time. You first become eligible to sign up for Medicare during the seven-month period that begins three months before your 65th birthday. If you don't sign up for Medicare during this Initial Enrollment Period, you could be charged a late enrollment penalty for as long as you have Medicare. "Those who are not automatically enrolled because they did not receive Social Security retirement will have to be proactive and apply for Medicare," Santana says.

Medicare parts B and D both have late enrollment penalties. Monthly Part B premiums increase by 10 percent for each 12-month period you delay enrolling in Medicare Part B after becoming eligible for it. The Medicare Part D late enrollment penalty kicks in if you go as little as 63 days without credible prescription drug coverage and increases the longer you go without insurance. Both late enrollment penalties could be added to your premiums for as long as you have Medicare if you don't sign up during the seven-month enrollment period that begins three months before your 65th birthday.