UNITED STATES—Hello Toni, I am new to your column. Extremely informative! I am turning 65 next March and am puzzled about Medicare’s 7-month enrollment period. I’ve heard that this period is only for Medicare Part B and that confuses me because I do not know how to enroll in Medicare’s Part A?

Can you enroll in Medicare Part A and B separately or together? I do not know how the 7-month window works. How soon can I enroll? I work part-time and not eligible for company benefits, so I want to enroll ASAP. Please explain what I should do. Thanks, Gary from Oakland, CA.

Gary: Thanks for your comments about “Toni Says” and do not feel alone in your confusion. America is confused on enrolling in Medicare the right way, to keep from receiving dreaded Medicare penalties.

The 7-month Medicare Initial Enrollment Period is for those who wish to enroll in Medicare Parts A and B together not separately when turning 65 and not covered by employer group health insurance.

When one is covered by employer group health insurance, whether through an employer or a spouse’s employer group health plan, then there is Medicare Part B penalty protection for opting not to enroll in Medicare Part B when turning 65.

One that is employed full-time with employer group benefits or covered under a spouse’s employer group health plan can enroll in Medicare Part A only during Medicare’s 7-month Initial Enrollment Period when turning 65.

**Caution about enrolling in Medicare Part A when you are an employee with a Health Savings Account (HSA) benefit. One must stop making HSA contributions the month prior to turning 65 if enrolling in Medicare Part A. Visit www.tonisays.com for more information on enrolling in Medicare the correct way.

Medicare’s Initial Enrollment Period is a 7-month window that begins 3-months before the month one turns 65, the month turning 65, and 3-months after turning 65. If you are covered on Medicare Parts A and B by the end of your Initial Enrollment Period, you can sleep stress-free from worry about Medicare penalties.

Visit www.ssa.gov to create a My Social Security Account to enroll in Medicare because everything is processed online at www.ssa.gov/benefits/medicare for your Medicare to begin the month you are turning 65 by enrolling 3-months before turning 65. If enrolling the month, you turn 65, your Medicare will begin the month after. Enroll the 3-months after your birthday and your Medicare effective date will be further delayed.

Additionally, it is important to know if you are going to take your Social Security check or not when turning 65. If you take your Social Security check, your Medicare will begin the month you turn 65. If you are not receiving a Social Security check, then it will be your responsibility to visit www.ssa.gov/benefits/medicare and enroll in Medicare. By not enrolling at the right time, you put yourself at risk of a Medicare Part B and D penalty.

When one enrolls in Medicare Parts A and B, then it is time to choose whether to go with Original Medicare with a Medicare Supplement and a stand-alone Medicare Part D for your prescriptions or pick a Medicare Advantage Plan, which includes a Medicare Part D prescription plan.

If delaying enrolling in Medicare Part B, you can claim a Special Enrollment Period, whenever you or your spouse lose employer group health coverage for any reason (retirement, layoff, reduction of hours to part-time, etc.).

This information on personalizing your Medicare enrollment and plan options can be found in the Medicare Survival Guide Advanced – available at www.tonisays.com.

For a Medicare Checkup, call the Toni Says® Medicare call center at 832-519-8664 or email info@tonisays.com regarding your Medicare plans and options.