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How Do I Help My Divorced Parents Sign up for Medicare?

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Summary: Your divorced parents don’t have to have the same type of Medicare coverage; they can get whatever they want for their own needs.

It’s not just family holidays that get tricky when your parents are divorced. You also have to help each parent navigate the financial changes that go along with divorce. One of those changes is often insurance coverage, so it’s no wonder you’re asking how to sign up for Medicare when your parents are divorced. Here’s what you need to know to help your parents get the Medicare coverage they need.

When should my divorced parents sign up for Medicare?

Whether your parents are married or divorced, they become eligible for Medicare when they turn 65, unless they qualify earlier due to disability. If your parents are getting retirement benefits from Social Security or the Railroad Retirement Board, there’s no need to sign up for Medicare. They will generally get their Medicare cards in the mail shortly before their 65th birthday.

If they aren’t on Social Security, they can sign up for Medicare during their initial enrollment period. This period begins three months before the month of your parent’s 65th birthday, includes the birthday month, and extends for three additional months. It’s important for your parents to sign up for Part B when they are first eligible, unless they have health insurance through an employer or union, or they may have to pay a penalty with their monthly premium when they do sign up for Medicare.

My mom didn’t work; can she still get Medicare from my dad?

Your mom can get Medicare when she qualifies by age or disability. Medicare qualification is individual and doesn’t depend on someone’s work history. However, some people get Medicare Part A premium free.

A divorced spouse can qualify for premium-free Medicare Part A based on the other spouse’s work history as long as:

  • They were married for at least 10 years
  • The ex-spouse worked at least 10 years and paid Medicare taxes during this time

Keep in mind, this only applies to premium-free Part A. Everyone who signs up for Medicare pays the Part B monthly premium.

Do divorced parents have to sign up for the same Medicare plan?

Medicare is a bit different from the group health insurance your parents are probably used to. Medicare is an individual plan; you can’t cover family members with Medicare. In the case of divorced parents, this is actually a huge benefit.

One parent may decide to sign up for Original Medicare and supplement it with a Medicare Supplement insurance plan. The other parent may decide that a Medicare Advantage plan better suits her needs. If your divorced parents live in separate states, they are able to choose from plans in their area, regardless of where the other spouse lives.

Coverage works the same for other types of Medicare plans, such as Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans and Medicare Supplement insurance plans. These are all individual plans, so each parent can choose the plan and type of coverage that works best for them financially.

How do divorced parents sign up for Medicare Supplement insurance plans and Part D prescription drug plans?

Since these are individual plans, each parent chooses his or her own plan. Medicare Supplement insurance plans and Part D coverage for prescription drugs are private plans; they are sold by private insurance companies. Your divorced parent needs to be enrolled in Part A and Part B to buy a Medigap plan or Medicare Part D Prescription Drug plan. Once your parent is enrolled, he or she can begin shopping for plans.

There are a few things to keep in mind about these plans, however. With Part D prescription drug coverage, you must enroll in a plan when you are first eligible or you will pay a late enrollment penalty with your monthly premium for as long as you have coverage. If your parent chooses a Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage, he or she cannot also enroll in a separate Part D plan.

If your parents want the coverage, it’s extremely important for them to sign up for Medicare Supplement insurance plans during the Medigap Open Enrollment Period. This period begins the month your parent is both age 65 or over and enrolled in Part B, and lasts for six months. If they wait, they may not be able to buy the plan they want or get the lowest premium. During open enrollment, your parents can buy any plan sold in their state regardless of pre-existing conditions or health status. After that, the plan may ask for medical records before deciding to sell your parents a plan.

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