If you are paying for your own insurance, you may think you do not need to sign up for Medicare when you turn 65. However, not signing up for Medicare Part B right away can cost you down the road.  Generally encompassing outpatient medical care, Part B coverage includes medically necessary doctor’s services, preventive care, and other specific services.

When Do I Sign Up for Medicare Part B?

When you should sign up for Medicare Part B depends on several factors. You become eligible for Medicare at age 65. If you are currently receiving Social Security benefits, your enrollment in Medicare Parts A and B will be automatic.

If you’re still working, signing up for Medicare Part B right away may not be necessary. Be sure to talk to your employer, especially if you have an employer or union group health insurance plan.

If you do not sign up for Part B right away, you will be subject to a penalty. Your Medicare Part B premium may go up 10 percent for each 12-month period that you could have had Medicare Part B, but did not take it. In addition, you will have to wait for the general enrollment period to enroll. The general enrollment period usually runs between January 1 and March 31 of each year.

There are exceptions to the penalty if you have insurance through an employer or through your spouse’s employer, but there is no exception for private insurance. The health insurance must be from an employer where you or your spouse actively works, and even then, if the employer has fewer than 20 employees, you will likely have to sign up for Part B.

If you don’t have an employer or union group health insurance plan, or that plan is secondary to Medicare, it is extremely important to sign up for Medicare Part B during your initial enrollment period. Note that COBRA coverage does not count as a health insurance plan for Medicare purposes. Neither does retiree coverage or VA benefits.

2023 Medicare Part B Premiums, Hospital Deductible, and Coinsurance Amounts

Part B enrollees pay a monthly premium, which adjusts annually. For 2023, the base monthly premium for Medicare Part B costs $164.90. The premium then increases as the Medicare recipient’s individual or joint income increases.

The yearly deductible for all Medicare Part B enrollees is $226. Enrollees must pay all costs until they meet the deductible. After that, Medicare covers most of the remaining fees. The enrollee generally pays about 20 percent of the Medicare-approved amount of the service.

Medicare does not set a limit on what individuals contribute. The amount people can pay for Medicare in 2023 depends on the medical services they receive.

You may not have to pay for most preventive services if you receive them from providers who accept Medicare. Enrollees may need to pay coinsurance or a deductible for select services and those received for non-preventive care.

Treatments Covered

From outpatient surgeries to mental health treatment, Part B covers many types of medical services. These include the following:

  • Surgeries, such as bariatric surgery
  • Fees related to surgery in outpatient facilities, second surgical opinions, and surgical dressing services
  • Cancer treatment
  • Acupuncture for chronic back pain and chiropractic services
  • Behavioral health treatment for mental health conditions like depression and anxiety
  • Cardiac rehabilitation if an individual suffers a cardiac event
  • Cognitive assessments and care plan services for dementia
  • Emergency treatment for injury, sudden illness, or illness that quickly worsens
  • Care for such medically necessary treatments as:
    • sleep apnea
    • diabetes
    • foot care
    • hearing and balance exams
    • kidney disease treatment
    • medical supplies and services
    • services to manage chronic conditions
    • prosthetics
    • lab tests
    • diagnostic tests
    • COVID tests
    • transplants

Preventative Care

Preventative care helps people stay healthy and avoid disease. Medicare Part B’s coverage encompasses many types of preventative care, such as vaccines, disease screenings, and mental health care.

  • The insurance includes an initial Welcome to Medicare health visit and a yearly wellness visit.
  • Part B covers the costs of vaccinations, booster shots, and additional doses. This includes shots for the flu, Hepatitis B, COVID-19, and pneumonia.
  • The program covers preventative care and screenings for mental health and substance use. You can receive one depression screening per year for no additional cost. There are also counseling sessions for tobacco and alcohol use.
  • Part B covers screenings for certain diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, abdominal aortic aneurysms, HIV, and sexually transmitted infections. Colorectal, lung, breast, and prostate cancer screenings are available as well.
  • Services related to weight management, such as nutrition therapy and obesity behavioral treatment, are also available.

Other Services Related to Medical Care

In addition to outpatient medical treatments, Part B covers other services. This may include transportation to the hospital, help with advanced care planning, and telehealth visits:

  • Part B covers your ground transportation ambulance services (to hospitals, critical access hospitals, and skilled nursing facilities) for medically necessary services.
  • As part of the yearly wellness visit, individuals can get help with advance care planning. (This includes support in creating an advance directive. If you become incapacitated in the future, this legal document states your wishes for medical treatment.)
  • Medicare enrollees can use telehealth visits to have medical appointments via technology rather than visiting a physical office.
  • Those who undergo certain types of cataract surgery can get one pair of eyeglasses covered.
  • Medicare Part B or Part A can cover home health services.

For a New York Times column about a man with private insurance who didn’t realize he needed to sign up for Part B, click here.

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