Medicare Part A

What is Medicare Part A?

Medicare Part A (hospitalization) is Original Medicare that you get through the federal government. You should sign up for Part A when you turn 65, even if you don't plan to retire.

How to apply for Medicare Part A

If you're nearing 65 and you're not receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) benefits, you'll want to apply for Part A as soon as you can.

There are three ways to apply:

If you already receive Social Security or RRB benefits, you don't need to do anything. You'll receive a Medicare red-white-and-blue card about three months before your 65th birthday. If disabled, you'll receive your card during your 25th month of disability.

Can I buy Medicare Part A coverage?

You usually don't pay for Part A coverage if you and your spouse paid Medicare taxes while working. If you aren't eligible for premium-free Part A, you may be able to buy a Part A plan if you meet one of the following conditions:

  • You're 65 or older and you have (or are enrolling in) Part B and meet the citizenship and residency requirements.
  • You're under 65, disabled, and your premium-free Part A coverage ended because you returned to work (If you’re under 65 and disabled you can continue to get premium-free Part A for up to 8 ½ years after you return to work).

Medicare Part A penalty

If you aren't eligible for premium-free Medicare Part A, and you don't buy it when you're first eligible, your monthly premium may go up 10% if you sign up later. You'll have to pay the higher premium for twice the number of years you could have had Medicare Part A, but didn't. So, if you were eligible for three years but didn't sign up, you'll pay the higher premium for six years.

You usually won't have to pay the penalty if you meet certain conditions that allow you to sign up for Part A during a Special Enrollment Period (SEP). In most cases if you choose to buy Part A, you must also have Part B and pay monthly premiums for both.

Special situations for Medicare eligibility

In some situations you may be eligible for Medicare before you turn 65 or you may need some parts of Medicare to keep your current health plan or add other coverage.

If you have a particular disease

  • If you have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig's disease, you automatically get Part A and Part B the month your disability benefits begin.
  • If you have End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) you can apply for Part A and Part B.

If you live outside the U.S.

  • If you live in Puerto Rico and get benefits from Social Security or the RRB you'll automatically get Part A.

If you have alternative Medicare coverage

  • If you have Part A and TRICARE (insurance for active duty military or retirees and their families) you must have Part B to keep your TRICARE coverage unless the service member who carries the coverage is on active duty.

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