UNITED STATES—Dear Toni: When should someone apply for Medicare when enrolling in COBRA? Is it wrong to wait until you are no longer on COBRA to enroll in Medicare Part B? Thanks, George from Kerrville, TX.

George: The answer is very simple. You should not wait to enroll in Medicare Part A and/or B. Be sure that all parts of Medicare Parts A and B begin the day you are no longer working with “true” company benefits and your COBRA plan starts.

There is a time limit to enroll in Part B and not be subject to the 10 percent Medicare Part B penalty for each 12-month period that you could have had Medicare Part B, but failed to enroll.

The Medicare and You Handbook tells us “How to Enroll in Medicare Part B” when you were first eligible and what the late penalties are.

Many think the Part B rule starts when COBRA ends in 18 months. They are not aware that the “Special Enrollment Period” begins the month after one loses company benefits or employment ends and they go on COBRA.

One enrolls in Part B with a BIG SURPRISE, finding they are penalized 10 percent each year or 12-month period, they could have had Part B, but didn’t. The penalty goes all the way back to the day he/she turned 65 or the day Medicare Part A began and doesn’t go away for the balance of their Medicare life. If you are 68, when you go to the local Social Security Office and sign up for Medicare for the first time, subtract 68-65 which is 3 years times 10 percent. There will be a 30 percent additional penalty added to your Part B premium forever.

Arguing with Social Security won’t help, it’s the rule and that is their job to enforce the rules…and they do it!!

The Medicare and You Handbook explains the Special Enrollment Period (SEP) for those who did not sign up for Medicare when first eligible as “during the 8-month period that begins the month after the employment ends or the group health plan coverage ends, whichever happens first.” After this 8-month period, the 10 percent penalty can begin. The Medicare and You Handbook does not indicate when COBRA ends.

Not understanding this rule causes a lot of confusion and extra stress. Not to mention paying more than one would for Medicare Part B premiums.

My advice is to always have Part B in place when leaving your job or losing your company benefits. Medicare Part B is an important part of Medicare because it covers most of one’s medical care and if you do not have Part B, then you will pay 100 percent out of your own pocket for what Medicare Part B covers.

Most Medicare medical events fall under Medicare Part B which covers medically necessary services such as doctors’ services, office visits including doctor charges for surgery for an in-patient hospital stay, all outpatient hospital care services, tests, X-rays, MRIs, CAT scans, chemotherapy, radiation, durable medical equipment and other medical services.

Remember…Medicare does not recognize COBRA as health coverage based on “current” employment.

Need help understanding your Medicare options. Attend a Confused about Medicare workshop or call the Toni Says® Medicare hotline at 832-519-8664.

Toni King, author of the Medicare Survival Guide® is giving a $5 discount on the Medicare Survival Guide® Advanced book at www.tonisays.com.