If you are planning to use a “special enrollment period” to sign up for Medicare Part B, be prepared for delays. Most people enroll in Medicare Part B during the seven-month “initial enrollment period” that includes the month they turn 65 plus the three months before and the three months after…but those who have active group coverage through an employer at age 65 often postpone enrollment. Those who postpone then have an eight-month “special enrollment period” that starts when their employment ends or their group coverage terminates, whichever comes first.

Complication: Some Social Security offices are struggling to process special enrollment period forms in a timely fashion. Result: It is stressful to have submitted the forms and then wait for weeks to see that your Part B application has been processed. Social Security typically honors the date that you requested Part B to start. If you have medical services while you’re waiting for Part B enrollment, ask your provider to delay submitting claims until your Part B enrollment is complete.

Consider submitting enrollment forms well before your group coverage ends. Historically the best time to submit special enrollment period forms—Forms CMS-40B and CMS-L564—was on the first business day of the month preceding the month in which you wish to have your Part B coverage begin. But now the safe option is to submit these forms a month earlier than that. Example: If you want your Part B to begin on April 1, submit your forms on February 1. That might result in you being enrolled in Part B a month earlier than you intended…and being charged an extra month of Medicare premiums. But paying one extra premium is likely less troubling than risking a coverage gap.

Submit forms in person at a Social Security office, if possible. Or submit them by fax and keep the fax transmission receipt…or via FedEx. Never submit forms without some type of tracking.

Regularly log into your account at MyMedicare.gov starting two to three weeks after submitting these forms to confirm that your Part B special enrollment application is being processed. If you see no evidence that your application is moving through the system, call your local Social Security office and ask for a status update.

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